House GOP Pulls Border Bill Rather Than See it Defeated

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House Republican leaders pulled Speaker John A. Boehner’s slimmed-down legislation to address the brewing immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border rather than see it defeated, amid a conservative revolt that the $659 million proposal did not address the core issues.

Faced with certain defeat, Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled the legislation from consideration Thursday afternoon, according to guidance from leadership advisers. With more than 20 House conservatives opposed, Boehner did not have enough votes from his own Republican ranks because virtually all Democrats opposed the legislation.

The resulting lack of action would end the congressional summer session in a familiar legislative failure, as the House and Senate are poised to leave town for a five-week break and prepare for the fall elections with voters holding record levels of disgust for Congress.

With almost no Democratic support, Boehner needed to corral votes virtually entirely from within his own Republican caucus, and he faced a group of House conservatives who worked hand-in-hand with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in plotting their strategy to bring down the legislation in pursuit of a more purely conservative approach.

During a vote on an unrelated bill, a wild scene erupted on the House floor as a pack of moderate and "establishment" Republican members lashed out at Boehner and newly minted Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), demanding that they not leave town without voting on immigration legislation. In response, Boehner and McCarthy called an emergency 3 p.m. closed-door meeting to discuss a potential way forward.

Democrats blamed Boehner for chasing after conservative votes for the border bill that were never going to materialize, after he initially proposed a more robust $1.5 billion plan that likely would have drawn some Democratic votes. Instead, as conservatives balked at that price tag, GOP leaders shrank the bill in an effort to grow the Republican vote – while losing Democrats.

“The worse the bill, the more votes on the Republican side,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in the closing minutes of the debate.

The pulling of the bill marked an embarrassing failure in the first real test of the new leadership team that takes office Thursday following Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor’s resignation as majority leader.

Emerging from his office off the House floor shortly after the decision was announced, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was "disappointed" as he conceded that support quickly eroded Thursday.

"We've got a caucus of widely disparate views. It never really gelled," he said, adding that just "a few" Democrats were expected to help Republicans pass the bill.

Despite the setback, Rogers sought to immediately deflect attention and political pressure back onto President Obama.

"I think this will put a lot more pressure on the president to act," Rogers said. "In many ways, it was his actions and inactions that caused the crisis on the border, and we attempted in this bill to help remedy this crisis. He has the authority and power to solve the problem forthwith."

Rogers said Obama should use his power "in a responsible way." When pressed to specify what those powers would be, he said: "It's stopping the inflow. He can do that just by his word, to announce that the policies he's had in the past are rescinded and he's not going to let these people in. Be more forceful; I don't think it's a matter of money, it's a matter of sending the message out there."

Earlier in the day, after a closed-door morning huddle at the Republican National Committee, senior Republicans had expressed confidence that the Boehner proposal would pass.

Flashing a thumbs-up as he left a meeting at the National Republican Club, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), an influential conservative and chairman of the Financial Services Committee, had said he would support Boehner. So did Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a frequent critic of House leaders. “It’s not perfect, but we shouldn't let that get in the way of the good,” he said.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the GOP’s chief deputy whip, added, “There is a lot of consensus.”

The initial coalescing around Boehner’s plan came after intense whipping Wednesday by GOP leaders, where they promised conservatives a vote on curtailing the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program (DACA), which has granted temporary relief for some migrant children and is set for renewal this fall. By adding a vote on DACA to the docket, many tea party Republicans said Boehner was able to win them over.

The House Republican border measure would have made it easier for the U.S. government to deport Central American minors who have entered the United States illegally and provided $659 million in additional funding to federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year. The funding was significantly less than the $3.7 billion that Obama requested and less than the $1.5 billion initially floated by Boehner and his allies this month. [...]

 

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