House Republicans emerged from a closed-door emergency meeting Friday morning largely unified over how to handle the flood of tens of thousands of young migrant children from Central America pouring over the nation’s southern border.
House Speaker John Boehner had called the meeting after conservative lawmakers, in an embarrassing rebuke to the new Republican leadership team, balked at passing a $659 million bill to address the crisis.
But leaving the gathering Friday morning, House Republicans said they expected to hold votes on two border security measures later in the afternoon. One would provide funding and change a 2008 law to make it easier to deport Central American children, treating them the same as children from Mexico and Canada who illegally cross the border. The other would curb President Barack Obama’s executive authority to halt the deportation of some undocumented immigrants, including those known as “Dreamers” who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“I expect this thing will sail through,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
The second vote _ which will occur only if the emergency funding bill for the border passes _ was added by Republican leadership to help bring on some of the conference’s more conservative members. The measure would freeze in place the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and eventually wind it down. This means that the president would not be able to add any new immigrants to the program and that those who are in it now might not, at least in theory, be able to renew their status to remain in the country.
Democrats are likely to accuse Republicans of trying to deport “Dreamers,” using the issue as a wedge during the 2014 midterm elections, as well as the next presidential race. Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to the Democrats failure to pass any legislation of their own and said they would be happy to return during the August break to try to reach a compromise, if and when the Senate is able to pass a bill _ a highly unlikely prospect now that most of the Senate has headed home already.
Many Republicans worried that leaving for the break without passing any border legislation would be damaging to them politically in the midterm elections, and they vowed to stay as long as was necessary to reach a compromise within their own ranks.
“We have to take strong action on this border and humanitarian crisis,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. “Leaving here without on this would have been reckless in my view.”
After negotiations broke down Thursday afternoon within the Republican conference, leadership aides huddled with conservative members in a more than three-hour meeting in the basement of the Capitol. Over muffins and coffee, they worked to address their concerns and then took their proposed changes to the conference’s more moderate members, staying well into the night to draft new legislative text.
The effort seemed to have paid off, with some of the most hard-right lawmakers, including Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa, saying they would support the new bills.
“I was a ‘hell, no,’ and now I can be for this bill today,” Bachmann said. “We completely gutted the bill, we changed the bill, it is nothing like it was yesterday.”
One likely change to the bill is the addition of an extra $35 million to reimburse border states, like Texas, for the use of National Guard troops at the border. That brings the total cost of the bill, which will be offset by spending cuts, to nearly $700 million - still well short of the $3.7 billion Obama initially requested.