Granger said the GOP plans to pass a border bill next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 12:01 p.m. |Republican lawmakers emerged from a special conference meeting Friday morning with renewed optimism that they could pass a slimmed-down border supplemental package before the August recess. But passage still may not be as easy as some expect.
House Republicans are looking at a less than $1 billion package, according to lawmakers leaving the meeting, though no legislative text has been released. Appropriators were previously aiming for a package at about $1.5 billion — already down from the the $3.7 billion the president proposed to address the flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southwest border.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the leader of a Republican working group on the crisis, said Friday morning that the measure Republicans aim to pass next week would still look similar to the recommendations she and her working group recently released.
“I really feel very, very hopeful,” Granger said at the prospect of passing a bill next week. “I just think we had a chance to present our findings and our recommendations. We came back today and explained more and listened to people.”
The border group’s plan drew a lukewarm response Wednesday when Granger presented the proposal to the conference. Apparently some lawmakers were still concerned that the president or the Senate could negate whatever legislation they pass. But, as Granger said, “there were far fewer problems today than there were yesterday.”
Granger said the package would retain the “major pieces” of the working group’s recommendations: “Change the 2008 law, secure the border and send the children back in an organized way working with the countries.”
A key piece of the GOP proposal — and a key sticking point with Democrats — is the revision of a 2008 law on human trafficking. Republicans want to amend the law to allow for the speedy deportation of children coming from Central America. Under the current law, those children are entitled to an immigration hearing to determine whether they can get refugee status.
On Friday, during her weekly news conference, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pleaded with Republicans to not “hold the children hostage to the cosmetics of how tough you are on the border.
Pelosi had initially seemed open to the idea of making changes to the 2008 law, but she quickly changed her mind after many Democrats expressed opposition to that idea. “There’s no reason why they have to be tied and I hope that the Republicans will come to that conclusion,” Pelosi said Friday.
Pelosi’s comments were echoed by 13 members of the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform — all Democrats — who sent a letter Friday to Boehner asking the speaker to submit a supplemental bill without the riders Republicans are almost certain to attach.
Changing the 2008 law seems like it almost definitely would be part of a Republican border proposal.
What’s “up in the air,” according to Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman, is whether Republicans try to end the president’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, more commonly referred to as DACA. Stutzman said he’d be surprised if Republicans try to end DACA in this package, but that “it was suggested a couple of times.”
There were an estimated 30 Republicans who spoke during the conference meeting, so a few voices on DACA would not be a significant call for immediate action.
Still, Republicans have very few votes they can lose on the measure before it’s in serious trouble of not passing. Democrats are unlikely to bail them out with more than a handful of votes — if any at all — and there are more than a few hard-line Republicans on the border supplemental.
“I think that we’re still very divided,” John Fleming, R-La., said. “I think that — I know that — there’s a number in there that didn’t speak up at all and feel as I do: that, at most, we should call the president out through a resolution that he must act, and that we can’t act until he does.”
Many lawmakers apparently thought it would be a good idea to adopt a resolution stating that it was the sense of the House that the president ought to enforce immigration laws. That could win some more votes for Republicans. But that doesn’t seem like it would appease Fleming.
“Because the idea that we’re going to pass legislation and it’s actually going to be signed into law is just nonsense,” Fleming said. “It isn’t going to happen. Everybody in that room knows that, at most, this would be, cover-your-butt kind of legislation.”
Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp expressed a similar sentiment.
“You can’t trust this president,” he said. “I mean, he could go in and do an executive order again next week.”
Huelskamp said he wanted to see the legislative text before he made his decision on the supplemental, but he seemed to suggest it was on the president, not Congress, to act to address the border.
“At the end of the day, this is the president’s border crisis, and he has to show how he’s going to solve it,” Huelskamp said.
But many Republicans seem to see the need to pass something before the August recess.
Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said it seemed like every Republican was coalescing around “some type of Granger-modified plan.” And Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said there was “growing consensus that the House will act, not to merely manage the problem, as the president wants, but to stop the problem.”
Brady added that, “if we worried about what the Senate does or doesn’t do, this House would not have sent over 300-plus bills on the jobs, the economy and getting the budget under control.”
And as Stutzman said: “We got to find a way to get there. I think we do. You talk to — you listen to some of the members, especially down on the border states, they don’t want to have to go home and deal with this all summer long.”
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.