GOP Passes Doomed Border Bill Before Recess
Policy + Politics

GOP Passes Doomed Border Bill Before Recess

REUTERS/ Rick Loomis

House Republicans managed Friday to overcome deep divisions within the party and passed a measure to address the child-migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill would provide emergency funding to deal with the crisis and speed the deportations of most border-crossers. A second measure, scheduled for a vote later Friday, would rescind President Obama’s authority to decide whether to deport certain illegal immigrants in the United States.

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The measures are unlikely to become law, as the White House, most Democrats and immigration advocates strongly oppose the proposals.

The votes amounted to a do-over and a critical victory for a new GOP leadership team and provided rank-and-file Republicans with recorded proof that they attempted to address the border issue, after struggling Thursday to reach intraparty consensus. But with the House unable to broker an agreement with the Senate over how to respond to Obama’s emergency request to handle the crisis, the president promised Friday that he would move ahead with his own response.

“I’m going to have to act alone,” Obama said, because federal resources have run dry with the lack of legislation. “We’ve run out of money.”

Obama continued his recent habit of castigating congressional Republicans, saying the party is not “actually trying to solve the problem” of immigration but instead of attempting to pass legislation so they can “check a box before they leave town for a month.”

Related: Even Congress Says Congress Does Nothing

The votes held late Friday — a rare occurrence any time of the year on Capitol Hill — capped a week of turmoil in the GOP ranks prompted by fierce opposition from the party’s conservative members to doing anything that could be perceived as an endorsement of Obama’s current immigration policy. With conservatives threatening to withhold support, top leaders abruptly withdrew border security legislation Thursday afternoon and announced plans to leave Washington without acting. Infuriated, several GOP moderates confronted Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on the House floor, forcing them to recalibrate and cancel plans to begin the recess.

The collapse of the original border security plan offered by House GOP leaders was a triumph for conservatives in the Republican caucus, who saw it as a high point in their troubled relationship with Boehner and his more centrist leadership team.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of those conservatives, described the retreat by Boehner as one of the highlights of her career, because the leadership was forced to mostly capitulate to the conservative demands.

“Leadership knew they couldn’t pass their bill,” Bachmann said, and as a result were forced to agree to revisions offered by tea party members, led by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a vocal opponent of Obama’s immigration policy who has been criticized by Democrats and immigration advocates for his harsh descriptions of migrants seeking to cross the border.

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When the conservatives sat down to hash out differences with GOP leadership Thursday night in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, “it went as smooth as silk,” Bachmann said. “Steve laid it out, and in less than two hours, we worked it out. It was really a painless process. But it was the first time that I’ve seen leadership recognize, with respect and admiration, the work that Steve King did. Steve helped to completely gut this bill.”

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), another conservative who attended the meeting, gave leaders credit for allowing conservatives to air their concerns. “Those concerns were addressed. To me, that’s the way the process should work,” he said.

By Friday, the insurgents were feeling bullish. Walking into a closed-door meeting of Republicans, King told reporters, “I think we’ll get a deal done.” Once inside, he spoke in support of the legislation.

Most rank-and-file members predicted that the struggle to secure the necessary votes would be resolved quickly. 

“I’m so confident, I’ve got a packed bag,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said Friday morning as he carried a military camouflaged backpack into the closed-door meeting. Other Republicans were seen pulling suitcases into the Capitol in anticipation of quick getaways.

Ultimately, members voted 223 to 189 to approve $694 million in additional funding for federal agencies dealing with the influx of immigrants — a sum far lower than Obama’s original $3.7 billion request. The bill would tweak a 2008 anti-trafficking law and make it easier for the government to deport Central American minors who have entered the United States illegally. It also would provide $35 million to border-state governors, who would be given broader legal authority to deploy the National Guard.

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Concerns about a governor’s ability to deploy National Guard troops came to a head in recent weeks as Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) took steps to activate about 1,000 troops to deploy to the Rio Grande Valley, after he said Obama had rebuffed requests for a federal deployment order.

Four Republicans voted against the bill.

All but one Democrat voted against the bill, reflecting the opposition of the White House and several organizations working with illegal immigrants, including prominent religious leaders. In a letter sent to lawmakers ahead of the vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “How our nation responds to this challenge is a moral test of our national character.” The bill passed Friday night “fails to live up to that test,” the bishops wrote.

Paul Kane and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

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