House Republicans Rally to Pass Border Funding Bill
Updated 11:04 p.m. | House Republicans found the votes late Friday night to pass a $694 million appropriations bill aimed at stemming the tide of the child migrant surge at the U.S-Mexico border.
It passed almost entirely along party lines, 223-189, freeing Republicans to go home for the August recess able to tell constituents they took action to address the crisis — unlike the Senate, which was unable to pass its own border funding bill Thursday but left town anyway. Only a single Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted for the package.
Four Republicans voted no: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Paul Broun of Georgia.
The House’s bill, however, isn’t expected to go anywhere, with Democrats and President Barack Obama torching it Friday.
The bill already faced a veto threat, but it became even more of a messaging exercise for the GOP when leaders were forced to postpone their recess and toughen the bill’s provisions to win the backing of holdout conservatives.
Though Democrats were never prepared to lend votes in big numbers, the House GOP could at one point make some argument that its legislative package was bipartisan. Some Democrats originally supported tweaks to a 2008 trafficking law to make it easier for unaccompanied minors to self-deport, Republicans noted, and they hoped to pressure the Senate into acting.
Republicans had tried to appease their restive caucus with a separate vote to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants stays of deportation to young undocumented immigrations brought into the country illegally by their parents.
They at last sealed the deal on Friday by making the DACA bill more stringent while broadening the changes to the 2008 trafficking law. The changes included allowing minors to remain in the custody of immigration enforcement officials as they await deportation proceedings, and on language regarding government investigations into whether the adults taking custody of those minors paid criminal smugglers for their passage.
One of leadership’s harshest critics, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, told CQ Roll Call the new package was “like I ordered if off the menu.”
Still, leaders burned by Thursday’s meltdown took their time whipping the votes and revising the bill.
Other members were still threatening to hold out because passage of the border funding bill didn’t ensure passage of the DACA bill, and the bills would be sent to the Senate separately, rather than in a combined package, all but ensuring the chamber would throw the DACA bill to the wayside.
President Barack Obama held little back in an afternoon press conference before the vote.
“House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate, and that if it were to pass the Senate, I would veto. They know it,” he said.
“They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem. This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today, just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month,” he said.
That prompted a retort from Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
“When it comes to the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, President Obama has been completely AWOL – in fact, he has made matter worse by flip-flopping on the 2008 law that fueled the crisis,” he said. “Senate Democrats have left town without acting on his request for a border supplemental. Right now, House Republicans are the only ones still working to address this crisis.”
Obama, however, said that without a supplemental to sign, he’ll have to act on his own.
“While they’re out on vacation, I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge, with or without Congress,” he said.
Moderate Democrats who were earlier this week prepared to vote for the funding bill, perhaps in just enough numbers to help make up for the anticipated GOP shortfall, suddenly saw the changes as too politically loaded to support.
“Any Democrat who votes for the bill, the repercussions they get, they deserve it,” Arizona Democrat Raul M. Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and member of the Hispanic Caucus, told CQ Roll Call. “There’s no excuse to vote ‘yes.’ This is bad.”
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.