Updated, 9:32 p.m. | Two southern Republican senators — Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas — played outsized roles sinking border supplemental bills on both sides of the Capitol as they demanded a push to end President Barack Obama's "administrative amnesty."
Sessions had ripped the House's border bill as "surrender" to Obama's plans to reportedly grant deportation relief and work permits to as many as five million more people in the country illegally. And Cruz rallied Republicans to back his legislation aimed at "stopping President Obama's amnesty."
Asked Thursday evening about his influence over House members, Sessions told CQ Roll Call, “I've been very clear on my views about what the key issues are. The president's stunning declaration that he's going to issue a massive amnesty requires Congress to appropriately respond. I think the best way to do that is through the power of the purse and so I just felt that — and I've been clear about it so the House members will make up their own mind."
When pressed on whether he lobbied the Alabama delegation about the House bill, Sessions told CQ Roll Call, "I told them how I felt." Sessions attended a breakfast with a dozen House members Wednesday morning, according to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. Brooks said those at the breakfast discussed immigration. There were mixed reactions to the border funding bill in the breakfast, but House Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., attended and asked for support.
Sessions also played a key role killing the Senate's $3.6 billion supplemental focused on the border, offering a budget point of order. A 50-44 procedural vote was 10 shy of the needed 60 votes needed to advance the bill.
Cruz also met with House Republicans Wednesday, and hosted a meeting of his own with roughly a dozen members later that night on the issue. After House GOP leaders had to pull their bill, Democrats repeatedly labeled him "Speaker Cruz." During a House Rules Committee meeting to retool the border funding legislation, ranking Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York referred to Cruz as an "adviser" to the House GOP.
Reporters on Thursday night asked Cruz about fellow Republicans who were confused by his lobbying efforts. “The premise of your question is false. My position on this crisis has not changed for many weeks. I have said publicly and privately the exact same thing, which is that we cannot solve the crisis at the border without stopping President Obama’s amnesty,” Cruz said.
The Texan added he has voiced his position to the media and “privately to members of the House, members of the Senate, to any members who will listen."
Both Cruz and Sessions took issue with the GOP bill because it did not prohibit Obama from ending or expanding his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which delays deportations and provides work permits for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally.
In an effort to circle the wagons, House GOP leaders crafted a plan Wednesday night where members would first vote on the border funding legislation and then vote for a separate measure that would prevent DACA from expanding.
But their plan still did not gain enough support from the Republican caucus, which led to the scrambling Thursday afternoon.
A few hours before the chaos, Sessions took to the floor to implore lawmakers to vote against both the House plan and the Senate plan for border funding.
“Congress, as an institution, must not support any border package that does not expressly prohibit the president’s executive amnesty and block funds for its implementation,” Sessions said Thursday morning.
Sessions later added, “There is currently no legislation pending for a vote in either Chamber — House or Senate — which passes this test. As a result, both the House and Senate packages should not be supported.”
So far, Sessions is winning.
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.
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