Border Funding Request Takes Shape in House

Granger is leading a GOP task force to make recommendations on the child migrant border surge. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:45 p.m. | House Republicans could, by the week's end, unveil their legislative response to the president's $3.7 billion request to bolster resources at the southwest border.  

The response is likely to cost less and incorporate policy riders sure to rile up Democrats on the left — but still might not be stringent enough to satisfy members on the hard right.  

Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the chairwoman of a special GOP working group convened by Speaker John A. Boehner to make policy recommendations on the child migrant border surge, told reporters Tuesday her group is focused on increasing border security funding, adding National Guard troops on the border and having more immigration judges to preside over deportation hearings and asylum requests.  

With a formal report not yet public at the time she spoke with the press, Granger also said the group supported tweaking a 2008 trafficking law to allow all unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to choose to return to their home countries rather than await trial to be deported, a right currently afforded only to children from countries contiguous to the United States.  

“Tweak it, not change it, not repeal it," Granger stressed, "but to treat all children the same.” Such revisions to the law, known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, are being touted in a pair of bills sponsored by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, both of Texas.  

Supporters of the proposal say it would expedite deportation proceedings and address overcrowding at detention facilities, while opponents  — primarily Democrats from the Progressive and Hispanic caucuses — say it would significantly scale back protections put in place six years ago to keep children from returning to Central American countries where they face imminent harm.  

Many House Democrats hailing from these contingents have said they won't vote to approve the president's funding request if that 2008 trafficking law is touched, setting up inevitable tension with their leadership.  

“This is the deportation-only agenda dressed in sheep’s clothing,” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, chairman of the CHC immigration task force, said in a statement Tuesday.  

But Democrats might be in a bind. Barack Obama has signaled the Cornyn-Cuellar proposal is worth exploring, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said it's not a "deal-breaker" and CHC Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., on Tuesday also expressed a readiness to swallow what, for many of his colleagues, would be a very bitter pill.  

And, at Republican leaders' weekly news conference Tuesday morning, Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested members should prepare themselves for an appropriations package that incorporates changes to the 2008 Wilberforce Act.  

"I think we'll wait until the task force comes back, but I think this is a bill you see [as] bipartisan, you see House Democrats supporting it," McCarthy said. "I think it's one that would have to be fixed and I think it would be an element of any package that comes forth."  

As Democrats push for a “clean” funding package and steel themselves for compromise, many Republicans are ticking off what conditions need to be fulfilled in order to vote “yes.”  

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he needed the funding to sunset after one year and implied he wanted it to be offset, rather than be characterized as an emergency, which would be appropriated without a pay-for.  

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said he and some other colleagues are working to ensure the final appropriations bill includes language to make sure the Transportation Security Administration requires proper documentation of illegal immigrants who have to travel to various holding locations as they await deportation proceedings.  

And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said a “prerequisite” for his support was that the bill “shouldn’t have any money that takes care of the needs for these people for more than a week.”  

Some Republicans won’t vote for any border funding bill under any circumstances. “There’s no chance in the world I’ll vote for it," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. “You can solve the problem by spending roughly $25 million to fly 50,000 illegal aliens back home to their families.” The proposed $3.7 billion request coming from the White House, he said, “is reckless and asinine.”  

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said much of the president’s request was already covered by the appropriations process.  

“So let’s deal with the appropriations on the floor,” Huelskamp said. “We don’t need to do a supplemental. Can they not last until Oct. 1? I don’t doubt they have plenty of money to make it to Oct. 1.”  

But Huelskamp posited that party leaders felt compelled to act quickly, before the August recess, when constituents back home might make a convincing argument against appropriating the money. “When people go to go home, we’re going to find out that nobody wants to do this, including the Democrats,” he said.  

It all means Republican leaders might be faced with the challenge of crafting a bill that needs bipartisan support to pass — and bipartisan support specifically appealing to the moderate factions of both parties rather than those at the more extreme ends of the ideological spectrum.  

On Tuesday afternoon, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., still would not divulge how negotiations were proceeding and what the top-line number would look like or whether it would be offset or characterized as an emergency, other than to say it would more than likely fall short of the original $3.7 billion request.  

"We’re trying to sift out in [Obama’s] request those items and dollar numbers that need to be done immediately,” Rogers said, “and then the rest of what he’s requesting, we can consider as we process the regular … appropriations bills.  

“We’re trying to put together a bill, first off, that makes sense, that we can afford and does the right thing, humanitarian-wise and regarding the border,” he said. “I am hopeful as we go along, that this will become a bipartisan effort, and bicameral.”  

If the Cornyn-Cuellar restrictions make it through the House, they'll face a tougher road in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid said he'd consider a narrower bill.  

"I won't support it," the Nevada Democrat told reporters Tuesday. "Our No. 1 concern should be this narrow issue of how we take care of this situation we have on the border. As I've been told, the Cornyn-Cuellar legislation covers a lot of other issues."  

Matt Fuller, Emily Ethridge and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.    

Related stories: President's Party Asks Why He's Avoiding the Border Obama 'Happy to Consider' Sending National Guard to Border to get Votes on Supplemental A Tale of Two Congressional Visits to the Southwest Border Obama Asking Congress for $4.3 Billion for Border Crisis, Wildfires Alone, Illegal and Underage: The Child Migrant Crisis Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.