House Republican leaders on Thursday were forced to abandon a vote on legislation to deal with the crisis on the southern U.S. border, after they failed to secure enough votes from Republicans who feared the legislation wasn’t tough enough.
The GOP also pulled consideration of a bill that was meant to attract more Republicans to the package — it would have prevented President Barack Obama from expanding an amnesty program for millions of illegal immigrants.
Republicans added that second bill to the schedule late Wednesday. But it wasn’t enough to overcome significant GOP objections to the funding bill, especially given that the Senate was unlikely to take up this tougher bill to limit Obama’s actions.
The decision to abandon both bills will likely please Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and their allies, who were pushing all week for the House to take up tougher language. Just before the House debate on the funding bill, Sessions said both were flawed and that members should oppose them.
“The House border supplemental contains no language on executive action and is the only bill that would receive consideration in the Senate,” Sessions said. “The separate House measure on executive actions fails to place effective restrictions on the president’s ability to grant unlawful amnesty and work permits.
The failure of the House to vote increased the chances that Congress won’t be able to agree on any border legislation before it leaves later Thursday for its August break. The Senate is also expected to leave for its break Thursday.
However, Republicans called a 3 p.m. meeting to discuss next steps, and indicated that votes later in the day may still happen. One possible option was that leaders would be able to find a way to pick up enough votes to call the bill up again.
Boehner and other GOP leaders said the decision to pull the vote shows the “intense concern” that Republicans have on the border situation, and said the Obama administration still has the power to control the situation on its own, without legislation.
“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries,” they said. “For the past month, the House has been engaged in intensive efforts to pass legislation that would compel the president to do his job and ensure it can be done as quickly and compassionately as possible.”
Among Republicans, one of the key problems with the $659 million funding bill is the perception that it could speed up the process by which illegal immigrant children can win amnesty in the United States. The legislation would subject children from Central America to a faster legal process in which their cases are heard by immigration judges.
However, Republicans have said that process too often results in a finding of amnesty, and that the bill therefore might actually speed up the process by which these children can safely and legally land in the country.
In the days before the vote, some Republicans indicated opposition to the bill because it would only create an expedited judicial process for immigrant children that too often results in asylum for those kids. Members like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said tougher asylum language was needed to win his support, echoing warnings from others who said the House bill could actually create even more incentive for illegal immigrants to cross the border.
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the bill would likely lead to less government aid to children from Central America.
“CBO considers it likely that enacting Division B [of the bill] would reduce the number of children present in the United States receiving means‐tested federal benefits, thereby reducing direct spending for such benefits,” CBO said.
Members debated the funding bill for an hour, and then were supposed to vote. Instead, members began debate on a transportation bill, and soon afterwards, GOP aides signaled both bills were dead.
Even if the House had passed one or both of the bills, the Democratic Senate was expected to reject them both. The Senate is working on its own border bill, but is also struggling to finalize that proposal.
The House bill had also drawn a veto threat from the White House, which said it would create “arbitrary deadlines” for processing immigration cases. The White House is also insisting that any border bill be funded with new debt, instead of finding spending offsets like the House bill does.
“This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children which could result in their removal to life threatening situations in foreign countries,” the White House said. “In addition, the limited resources provided in H.R. 5230 are not designated as emergency, but rather come at the expense of other Government functions.”
This story has been updated.