House GOP passes border bill — likely to no effect
WASHINGTON — A day late and a compromise short.
House Republicans stayed in Washington longer than planned to try to change an emergency border bill so it can pass without any Democratic help.
A split between tea party conservatives and more moderate Republicans over how to respond to the immigrant surge from Central America threatened to further delay the start of the five-week summer break for Congress.
GOP leaders abruptly pulled the bill from the House floor on Thursday, to address concerns by some conservative factions. They came back Friday with a revised version that included more money for the National Guard.
Among the changes: provisions making it easier to deport children back to Central America and scheduling a separate vote on a bill to deny President Barack Obama the authority to halt deportations of young immigrants — the so-called “Dreamers.”
In one way, it worked: The updated version passed the House on Friday night, by a 223-189 resoundingly Republican vote.
But that doesn’t mean this legislation is going anywhere.
That’s because the measure has zero chance of getting through the Democratic-led Senate, meaning Congress will go on its August recess without sending legislation to President Barack Obama on what both parties call a humanitarian crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed as much Friday, saying “I don’t think it’s going to get done” because he “can’t imagine” the Senate approving the House version.
Obama later said the failure of Congress to provide emergency funding in response to the immigrant influx means he must decide how to reallocate resources because “we’ve run out of money” to handle the surge.
He blamed overall Washington dysfunction on the inability of congressional Republicans to agree among themselves on what to do, telling reporters that GOP legislators “are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are” and are unable to compromise because of differences among themselves.
As an example, he cited the refusal by House Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote on a comprehensive Senate immigration reform measure passed last year with bipartisan support from backing from across society including the business community, labor unions and faith-based groups.
“The argument isn’t between me and House Republicans,” he said. “It’s between House Republicans and Senate Republicans. House Republicans and the business community. House Republicans and the evangelical community.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel shot back that it was Obama’s failed leadership that caused the current border crisis, saying the President has been “completely AWOL.”
For House Republicans, the optics of passing a plan before heading home became the top priority after Senate Democrats were unable to push through their own version, which died Thursday night on a procedural vote.
Steel pushed that point, noting that “Senate Democrats have left town without acting on” Obama’s request for emergency funds.”
“Right now, House Republicans are the only ones still working to address this crisis,” he said.
Such is the state of politics in Washington less than four months before congressional elections. The partisan climate is as fierce as ever with conservatives again rising up to challenge establishment priorities and assert their agenda.
The influx of immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — many of them unaccompanied children — into Texas has overwhelmed border facilities and services, inflaming an already volatile political issue.
Obama had asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to strengthen border security and speed up the processing of new arrivals, while the Democratic plan scuttled in the Senate called for $2.7 billion.
The GOP measure in the House slashed that to $659 million and included a change to a 2008 anti-trafficking law to make it easier to send home the child immigrants.
Tea party Republicans, spurred on by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, rejected the plan because it failed to limit Obama from acting on his own on immigration issues, such as halting deportations of some child immigrants who arrived years earlier.
They also fear further further unilateral steps signaled by the White House that would allow more undocumented immigrants to work in the United States.
The conservative backlash forced GOP leaders to cancel a scheduled vote on Thursday night, originally planned as the last session before the summer recess.
Instead, the Republican caucus met Friday to revise their plan by adding $35 million to help Texas pay for National Guard troops deployed to the border and loosen regulations to ease the ability to send home newly arriving immigrants with no standing to remain in the country.
Legislators said after the meeting the changes appeared to secure the necessary support to pass the bill, but some dissatisfaction remained over plans to hold separate votes on the funding measure and a Cruz-backed provision to halt Obama’s unilateral steps on immigration.
Obama, however, called the resulting GOP legislation “the most extreme” version so far and said Republicans knew it had no chance of becoming law because the Democratic-led Senate wouldn’t pass it and he would veto it.
The changes widened the gap between Republicans and Democrats, who oppose removing guaranteed immigration hearings for child immigrants from Central American now required under the 2008 law.
Reid said the House “appears to be heading from bad to worse” in its effort to secure conservative votes.
Thursday’s developments were an embarrassing result for Boehner and his new leadership team put together after former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat last month.
The canceled vote and resulting confusion displayed the continuing deep divisions between conservative and more moderate House Republicans that has caused similar episodes in the past on other spending matters.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration already has shifted resources from the nation’s interior to the border to try to speed up the processing of new arrivals.
Obama also will do what he can to address overall immigration reform because House Republicans have refused to vote on a comprehensive measure passed last year by the Senate, Earnest said.