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House, Senate Republicans Meet in Secret to Discuss Border Security Bill

Sessions, R-Ala., speaks with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Two days after Sen. Jeff Sessions bashed a House border security bill, Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul crossed the Dome Thursday to clear the air and try to secure the support of one of Congress' most ardent immigration critics.  

McCaul — with Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas and freshman Gary Palmer of Alabama in tow — met with Sessions, the Alabama Republican,  Thursday in the senator's Russell office for roughly 30 minutes. The discussion centered on the House bill and a round of comments from both men that have played out in press releases and news reports. Asked as he left the Capitol Thursday if he had spoken to Sen. Sessions following the public back-and-forth, McCaul responded, "Yeah, I actually just sat down with him."  

McCaul characterized it as a "very positive discussion" and said he thought he and Sessions had common goals on border security and immigration. "And I obviously explained to him I don't have jurisdiction over the immigration issues," he said.  

McCaul said his legislation was "purely" about border security — "I think he understands that," McCaul said of Sen. Sessions — and he told the senator he wanted to work with him on the measure.  

"I don't think he had anything very specific with respect to my bill," the Texas Republican continued. "If you look at his seven issues, they're really all in the judiciary lane."  

In a phone interview with CQ Roll Call later Thursday, however, Sen. Sessions adamantly disagreed with that characterization. Sen. Sessions specifically raised issues with the implementation of a biometric exit-entry system and changes related to how many miles of double-layer fence would be required on the border. He also told CQ Roll Call he spoke to the group about the need to end the "catch-and-release" program at the border.  

Sen. Sessions said that, "fundamentally," what he expressed to McCaul and the other two House lawmakers was that the bill was being promoted as the strongest border security bill ever, and that, if passed, the nation's border security problems, "implicitly," would be fixed.  

"And this is totally far from true," Sessions said.  

"What's lacking from my perspective is a commitment from the House leadership that we can rely on that would deal with the other issues," he continued.  

The senator said he's worried the border security bill is being brought up now so that lawmakers can vote for a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that doesn't block President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.  

"For the people who really don't want to deal with immigration, [the border security bill] could be seen as a cover vote, and I don't know that it's necessary that it be rushed so fast," he said.  

Sen. Sessions’s staff asked that, as a condition of discussing the meeting, CQ Roll Call make it clear that Sessions was only commenting after McCaul first shared his thoughts.  

The outspoken Alabama lawmaker called the meeting a "frank exchange," and he said he hadn't decided whether he would support McCaul's border security bill. McCaul told him he would give him a marked-up copy with the latest changes for him to review.  

On Tuesday, Sen. Sessions slammed McCaul's border security bill in a 719-word statement that mocked the measure, seeming to compare it to the "repudiated gang of eight bill," which, as the Sessions release noted, called itself the "toughest border security [and] enforcement measures in U.S. history."  

McCaul had earlier made a similar statement about his bill, calling it "the toughest border security bill ever," and he fired back against the senator on Wednesday, telling reporters, "It would have been nice if he'd called me before he blasted a press release."  

McCaul was also overheard outside a Republican Study Committee Wednesday discussing the bill and Sessions' comments with Alabama Republican Mike D. Rogers. McCaul asked Rogers if Sen. Sessions understood that he was criticizing him "personally," and McCaul asked Rogers about the possibility of "back-channelling" a message.  

It appears McCaul went with a more direct approach.  

   

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