In a stunning series of stops and starts to resolve the border crisis Thursday, the House of Representatives debated a bill to help resolve the flow of unaccompanied children over the southeastern border, then GOP leaders, facing defeat, pulled it from the floor only to reverse course after an outcry from supporters.
The turnaround delayed the start of a five-week summer recess.
The House Republican Conference met Thursday afternoon and will meet again Friday morning, with a vote possible later in the day.
Emotions were high on the House floor as speakers on both sides talked about the urgency of the crisis. But enough House conservatives refused to support the package that leaders yanked the bill.
A cadre of powerful House Republicans, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, then surrounded new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and demanded a vote.
Many members said it was unconscionable that Congress would fail to act on a crisis and then leave Washington for five weeks.
Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has activated the National Guard to deal with the border, issued a blistering statement.
“It’s beyond belief that Congress is abandoning its post while our border crisis continues to create humanitarian suffering, and criminal aliens still represent a clear threat to our citizens and our nation,” he said.
The chaotic scene in the House is over a pared-down, short-term $659 million bill to help restore order to the border, to process and deport incoming immigrants more quickly by changing a 2008 anti-human trafficking law, and to help Central American countries repatriate them. More than 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are already in the U.S., and tens of thousands continue to arrive.
But conservative House Republicans, who had met with leading tea party activist Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Wednesday night, did not think the package went far enough. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, cut the funding from a $1.5 billion package earlier suggested by Rogers and added a second bill to prevent the Obama administration from refusing to deport immigrant children already in the U.S. under a policy the White House adopted in 2012.
The two-pronged package did not appeal to enough members for passage, leaving GOP leaders scrambling to come up with a bill that would win support.
In a joint statement, Boehner, McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said, “This situation shows the intense concern within our conference – and among the American people. . . . 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.”
House Democrats largely have refused to go along with the GOP package, especially because of the proposed change in the 2008 law. That law, signed by President George W. Bush, was designed to protect young illegal immigrants from Central America from sex traffickers. It requires that the children be provided access to legal counsel and places them under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is required to promptly placed them “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
The White House, which threatened to veto the House GOP bill, had earlier sent Congress a $3.7 billion bill on the border crisis. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, were poised to act on a $2.7 billion bill but held off as House Republicans scrambled.
“We have been saying for weeks now that we need additional resources to address a problem that Republican members of Congress are acknowledging is a problem on cable television, but when they get back to work in their congressional offices, they’re not really willing to take any action,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
“We certainly would welcome Congress taking action on a request that we forwarded to them almost four weeks ago now,” Earnest said at his daily briefing. “And the fact that House Republicans have waited literally until the very last day of their session to even consider taking a vote on this is an indication that they’re not operating with the best interests of the American people in mind. That’s for sure.”