Just hours after releasing the text of a 289,861-word, $1.013 trillion bill to fund the government, House GOP leaders stood before their members Wednesday morning to sell the plan.
Lawmakers emerging from the closed-door meeting offered a checkered assessment of the collective response among the rank-and-file, and a true read on the level of support for the bill within the conference might not come until the formal whipping begins later Wednesday afternoon. And funding for federal operations is set to expire on Thursday at 11:59 p.m.
Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and John Fleming, R-La., predicted that anywhere from "dozens and dozens" to "50 or 60" members would rebuff the legislation because it does not explicitly block President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration.
Others, such as Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said she would vote "yes," albeit reluctantly.
"This is the best we're going to get right now," she said. "I'm going to live to fight another day."
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said the so-called "cromnibus" contained "successes" as far as the spending levels and the policy riders, and urged his colleagues to "claim those victories."
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, walked down a hallway in the Capitol basement shaking his head. Asked how he felt about the bill, he said, "I don't feel good." Asked how he would vote on the bill he said, "I haven't decided."
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., made the case to their conference to support the bill in spite of concerns about the lack of policy riders dealing specifically with the immigration executive orders.
Scalise, in particular, promised that members would very early on in the new year have a chance to get at these issues and craft a strategy for going forward, according to Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who added that Scalise mentioned the joint House and Senate GOP retreat in January as a setting for that discussion. Also, the end-of-February sunset date for Department of Homeland Security funding would also ensure House Republicans get some leverage on the issue sooner than later.
“Something else that is ultimately a component of this legislation is that it finally sets up a battle in just a few weeks with the president on immigration and his attempt at a legal action," Scalise said at a press conference following the members' meeting. "When we have a Republican Senate, when we can actually move legislation through the process that puts a check on this president — on the things that he’s trying to do that are illegal.”
Scalise added that there were a number of provisions in the cromnibus that were wins for conservatives, from blocking EPA rules on lead and water to cutting funding for the IRS.
Boehner, at the same press conference, called the cromnibus "responsible" and the product of true bipartisan, bicameral compromise. "Without a threat of a government shutdown, this sets up a direct challenge to the president's unilateral actions on immigration, when we have new majorities in both chambers of Congress," Boehner said.
In addition to whipping the bill this afternoon, the House Rules Committee will also meet to pave the way for Thursday floor consideration. A number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle intend to advocate for leaders to allow votes on amendments to make the bill more palatable to various factions of the conference. One, co-sponsored by 57 Republicans, "prohibits funds to carry out or implement the President’s Executive Amnesty, as described in memorandum issued by the President and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on November 20, 2014."
How many Republicans drop off in their support for the bill will determine how many Democrats are needed to make up for the shortfall. Late Tuesday night, members of House Democratic leadership weren't ready to say whether they would or wouldn't vote for the cromnibus, while there are policy riders included in the legislation that are sure to rankle plenty of progressives.
House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., isn't expected to urge her fellow appropriators to vote one way or the other, though the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, Rep. David E. Price of North Carolina, will be voting "no."
"The achievement of stitching together eleven of our appropriations bills is diminished by the inclusion of several controversial legislative riders and the placing of Homeland Security in a short-term continuing resolution," Price said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "This is an unfortunate end to what has been a remarkably cooperative bipartisan Homeland Security Appropriations cycle."
Matt Fuller and Emily Ethridge contributed to this report.
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