House GOP Weighs New Border Bill to End Impasse

Friday, 01 Aug 2014 10:22 AM

By Todd Beamon

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House Republicans are considering a new border security bill that would add more money for the National Guard as leaders frantically try to win over reluctant conservatives.

The GOP leadership is presenting the revised bill to rank-and-file lawmakers Friday morning. Leaders were forced to scrap a scheduled vote on Thursday. The House could vote before heading out for its five-week summer recess.

Entering the meeting, congressman Richard Hudson of North Carolina said lawmakers are optimistic about getting enough votes for the new measure.

The nearly $660 million bill would add $35 million for the National Guard.

Hudson says the leadership did not anticipate strong opposition to the border bill from outside groups and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

The House was in a scramble to round up 218 votes from wary conservatives to OK a bill to help with the immigrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of the GOP whip team began meeting late Thursday with members they hoped to sway in order to build enough support to move legislation before leaving for the five-week recess, where they hope to brag about having accomplished something on the border bill.

The House bill was scuttled, at least in part, by a rally supported by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who met late Wednesday with tea party house members to sway them against the legislation, which he opposed.

The House GOP conference meets at 9 a.m. Friday.

In a surprising setback, the leadership on Thursday was forced to abandon a vote on the slimmed-down $659 million measure. Then they huddled with GOP members to figure out a way to secure passage of a bill making it easier to deport tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America flooding into the United States.

Even if House leaders prevail, the Senate blocked its version of the border bill late Thursday, meaning no measure heads to President Barack Obama's desk.

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked the legislation giving President Barack Obama $2.7 billion to deal with the illegal immigration crisis on the U.S. border.

By a vote of 50-44, 10 short of the 60 needed, the Senate bill failed to clear a procedural hurdle. Republicans objected to the cost of the measure and complained that it would not be effective in discouraging rising illegal migration of children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

"It just boggles the mind that the president of the United States would rather fundraise in Hollywood than work with the members of his own party to forge a legislative response to this tragic situation — and to do something to prevent more young people from making the perilous and potentially life-threatening journey across the desert," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Newsmax in a statement after the vote.

But several House conservatives told Newsmax late Thursday that they will not support any legislation that does not require Obama to rescind his executive order that created the illegal immigration debacle.

"The president must be stopped from giving deferred action or amnesty to any more illegal aliens," said Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks. "This would undermine the jobs and incomes of struggling American families."

"I'd like to see the ending of DACA," Texas Rep. Steve Stockman said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. "This is one of the most cruel and inhumane laws, but it wasn't designed to be. It was designed to be the exact opposite."

Issued by Obama in 2012, DACA ended the threat of deportation for as many as 670,000 illegal immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday. Obama recently extended the program for two more years.

"We have to admit failure," Stockman added. "I want to see the correction of that failure. We're hurting more people right now, and there has to be shown some compassion to these people by turning them back."

Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio said he also wanted the legislation to "make sure our border is secure. We want to make sure the president enforces the rules on the books and rescinds DACA.

"I also want to see some of that money cut from Mexico and Central America until they help us."

The decision by House Republicans to stay in Washington until they passed a funding bill came after Speaker John Boehner canceled a vote on the $659 million bill when conservatives balked.

Legislators announced their decision after a closed-door meeting. House leaders were meeting with holdouts Thursday night to make revisions to the bill. The full Republican Conference will meet privately at 9 a.m. Friday.

"There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries," Boehner and other conference leaders said earlier Thursday. "We will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis and other challenges facing our country."

In a last-ditch effort to lure conservatives, House GOP leaders had agreed to a separate vote on a companion measure that would have blocked Obama from expanding DACA to more immigrants living here illegally.

That did not register well with conservatives, who called for tougher measures — including defunding DACA outright.

Brooks described the funding bill as "all show horse and no work horse." He called it "very weak" because it "did not effectively address the border security problem — and in some ways, made it worse.

"I won't be supporting that bill, period," Brooks told Newsmax.

Brooks and Stockman were among a dozen conservatives who met with Cruz on Wednesday to discuss a strategy on the proposal.

The tea party-aligned Republican has been an influential voice among House Republicans on a number of issues, including opposing Obamacare at every turn. Cruz's encouragement to withhold support for government spending unless the president’s healthcare law was defunded led to the partial government shutdown in October.

"Ted Cruz did not tell anybody to vote against" the legislation, Brooks told Newsmax. "He didn't tell us to do anything. ... There was no agenda, no pitch to do one thing or the other."

The bill's withdrawal culminated a hectic day on Capitol Hill as Congress was likely to head into its summer recess without approving legislation to address the border crisis.

Between last Oct. 1 and June 15, more than 57,000 illegal minors have been detained at the South Texas border after the crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico. The figure is double the total from the same period the previous year.

The Obama administration now estimates that as many as 90,000 could be apprehended by the end of September.

Despite the uproar by conservatives over the withdrawn bill, another Texas Republican, Rep. Blake Farenthold, told Newsmax that he supported it.

"This is a crisis and we need to deal with it," he said. "There's nothing in this bill that a conservative can't get behind. Most of the complaints that I'm hearing about it is that it doesn't go far enough.

"There's a whole lot more we can do, but doing something is better than doing nothing. If we don't do anything, it really opens it up for the president. I think we give him a media win on that one."

But that argument carried no weight with Stockman. "We're up here to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is to say no."

Regardless of what passes the House, he said it would not be accepted by Obama or the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"The president can do whatever he wants on this — and we're going to get blamed for it. Historically, Republicans try to do the right thing. It goes over to the Senate. Then Harry Reid declares that it's a disaster.

"If the president drove the car in the ditch, I don't think Republicans should get behind the steering wheel and take credit for it," Stockman said.

"I see it as a mistake that we're going to do this, because I know that Harry Reid is not going to adopt a Republican bill."

Bentivolio, a first-term congressman who faces a GOP primary in Michigan on Tuesday, told Newsmax that DACA needs to be rescinded because the illegal immigrants must be returned to their home countries.

After touring three Central American countries earlier this month, "I got the impression that they don't really want anybody back and that they don't really care," Bentivolio said. "They're exporting their problems to us."

He and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee met with officials from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — along with representatives of religious and volunteer organizations.

"They don't really want to solve this problem. They just want to export their problem."

The $659 million cost also is too much, Bentivolio said.

"You know who's going to pay for this?" he asked. "Hard-working, middle-class Americans — and there's fewer and fewer of us every day.

"I have to worry about my community, my hard-working Americans — and make sure my kids get a college education. The children in my district, my state, and my country."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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