A canceled vote. Postponed travel plans. Condemnations of Ted Cruz.
The first day for a new slate of House Republican leaders was marked by the same kind of confusion that plagued their predecessors and has contributed to one of the least productive legislative records of any U.S. Congress.
The topic driving the dysfunction in Washington yesterday: the record-breaking number of children arriving at the U.S.- Mexico border from Central America that members of both parties have referred to as a humanitarian crisis.
Unable to gather support for a response to President Barack Obama’s July 8 request for $3.7 billion to handle the influx, House Speaker John Boehner and his new top lieutenants -- Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise - - yesterday called off a vote on the leaders’ proposal.
They quickly reversed course and started trying to revive a plan after a rush of Republicans complained that they didn’t want to leave for an August break without voting on a border bill, even one that included policy changes with little chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. Republicans will continue their talks today.
Several lawmakers, including Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, were already at the airport awaiting flights home when they were called back to the Capitol.
“If we don’t vote, then we all own a ‘no’ vote,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who argued for staying in Washington. “I think we all realize it would be very bad.”
The new leadership team was supposed to be a “win for America,” as Scalise called it when he and McCarthy won their new positions in June. The two won their spots in a House contest after former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprise loss in a Virginia primary election in June.
“We’re going to be a more united team moving forward,” Scalise told reporters at the time.
There was little unity yesterday. Instead, the day -- which included Cantor’s farewell speech -- more closely resembled the discord that forced Boehner to cancel a vote during the partial government shutdown last October.
Boehner also called off a vote in in December 2012 on his proposal to extend expiring tax breaks for people making up to $1 million annually, which ultimately led to a fiscal compromise including a tax increase for individuals making more than $400,000 a year.
“We don’t always see eye to eye even within our own parties,” Cantor said. “And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
About 57,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border from Oct. 1, 2013, through June 15, double the total from the same time a year earlier. Most of them are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The Obama administration seized on the House leadership’s failure to get a vote and used it to justify the president’s plan to use executive actions on the border issue. Obama is considering using his authority before the November midterm elections to let millions of undocumented immigrants obtain work permits and stay in the U.S. legally.
“By pulling their own bill, the House GOP once again proves why the president must act on his own to solve problems,” senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer posted on Twitter.
As they had during the shutdown, some Republicans accused Texas Senator Ted Cruz of meddling in House business. Cruz, a Tea Party-backed lawmaker and potential presidential candidate in 2016, urged House Republicans to oppose leaders’ $659 million border plan. Enough balked to force cancellation of yesterday’s scheduled vote.
Even if House Republicans can coalesce behind a plan, there’s no chance of it becoming law any time soon: The Senate failed to advance its own border plan on a 50-44 vote yesterday and will be leaving Washington until Sept. 8.
“We’ve not had a productive Congress,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor yesterday.
One measure both chambers completed was a $17 billion plan to shore up medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, cleared 91-3 by the Senate yesterday and sent to Obama for his signature.
House leaders planned to confer with holdouts on the border proposal last night to work on revisions, and Republicans will meet privately this morning to reassess.
Some Republicans said they could fault Obama if they leave Washington without a vote. Many in the party have blamed the border crisis on Obama’s decision in 2012 to protect from deportation certain undocumented immigrations brought to the U.S. as children before 2007.
“We will continue to point out that it was the president’s actions that caused it in the first place,” said Representative Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican.
In an attempt to win support for their bill, H.R. 5230, Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote on a separate measure -- sought by Cruz and other members -- to block Obama from expanding the 2012 policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Such a move “cuts both ways” by picking up some Republican votes and losing those of others, Lamborn said.
Cruz this week urged party members in the House to oppose the leaders’ border plan. On July 30 he met with about a dozen House Republicans over pizza and Dr. Pepper to discuss strategy about the proposal.
To the dismay of some House Republicans, Cruz has been an influential voice in the chamber, urging Tea Party-aligned lawmakers to oppose Obamacare at every turn. His encouragement to withhold support for government spending unless the president’s health-care law was defunded led to October’s partial government shutdown.
“Ted Cruz and a handful of Republicans have hijacked the party,” said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican.
Democrats chided Republicans for allowing Cruz to influence their conference.
“I think you need a better Senate adviser,” New York Democrat Louise Slaughter said. “His record over here in the House is not that good.”
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama also sought to persuade House Republicans to oppose their leaders’ bill, said Representative Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican. In a statement on his website, Sessions said Congress must pass a stronger bill to prevent Obama from taking executive actions providing “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants.
Texas Republican Kay Granger, an author of the House plan, said she was “very disappointed” that the bill her border working group helped write was pulled from the floor.
The reason? “No votes,” she said.
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