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July 23, 2014

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July 23, 2014

GOP Calls for Troops on Border, Speedier Deportations

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Granger and the GOP border crisis task force called for more troops and speedier deportations. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner’s hand-picked House GOP  ”working group” on the border crisis released its recommendations Wednesday.

“Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children and it has remained a top priority throughout this process,” said Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who chaired the group.

The task force called for deploying the National Guard and changing a 2008 law Republicans say is hindering the speedy return of Central American minors to their home countries.

“Anyone who has been to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley knows that the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing a remarkable job, but they are stretched thin with the massive surge of children crossing the border, and the quickest way to provide relief is by deploying the National Guard. The National Guard would also assist with the humanitarian care and needs of the unaccompanied minors, which will free up the Border Patrol to focus on their primary mission,” Granger said in a statement.

“The recommendation to amend the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 is something both parties agree on and modifications to the law can be done to expedite the process while ensuring proper protections are in place for the children who need them. We recommend amending the 2008 law, so that all unaccompanied minors are treated the same for the purpose of removal. This would be done by requiring unaccompanied minors who do not wish to be voluntarily returned to their home country to remain in Health and Human Services’ custody while they await an expedited immigration court hearing that must promptly occur after they are screened by child welfare officials,” she said. Full story

By David Eldridge Posted at 10:10 a.m.
Uncategorized

July 22, 2014

4 Big Reasons Obama’s Border Funds Request Is in Trouble

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Granger is leading a GOP task force to make recommendations on the child migrant border surge (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The initial outcry in Washington over the scale and scope of the child migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border signaled this could be a moment for rare bipartisan action.

But as with most issues on Capitol Hill, hopes for cooperation soon dissipated with rancor and disagreements now boiling over between the parties — not to mention within Democrats’ and Republicans’ own ranks.

With just days left until the monthlong August recess, lawmakers seemed as far apart as ever Tuesday — the eve of a House Republican Conference meeting that could determine whether, and how, the chamber moves forward with legislation to fund additional resources at the border and various policy changes to stem the tide of the crisis.

Here are four of the biggest reasons that first glimmer of optimism Republicans and Democrats could cobble together a deal might ultimately have been misplaced.

First, for House Republicans, it’s still about immigration. Republican leaders might have hoped that a specially-appointed “working group” tasked with advising the conference on the border crisis would help focus the conversation on the matter at hand, rather than let it devolve into the loaded rhetoric of the immigration debate that has plagued the party for the past year and a half.

It has proved virtually impossible to separate the two issues, however, with tempers still flaring on a number of fronts — from the president’s alleged untrustworthiness to concerns that undocumented immigrants are running rampant on the taxpayer’s dime, and fear that passing a border funding bill that isn’t stringent enough could be perceived by the public as too lenient.

At least 33 House Republicans want Obama to end his executive action that grants stays of deportation for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents, hoping send a message to Central American countries that their children won’t get a free pass at the Southwest border. And the six Republican House members from Oklahoma don’t want any more unaccompanied minors shipped to holding facilities housed at the state’s Fort Sill army base.

There are even divisions within the seven-member House working group regarding just how far to go. The same day the members signed off on its report of recommendations to leadership, two of them — Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Carter of Texas — introduced their own bills addressing the border crisis that tack significantly further to the right. Spokesmen for the lawmakers said the measures were intended to compliment, not supplement, the task force’s work, but a lack of solidarity among seven, hand-picked members could serve as a harbinger for how hard it will be to build consensus with the larger, unwieldy Republican rank and file.

Second, House Democrats are confounded by a difficult choice. Republicans are united on one thing: Any funding bill that comes to the floor will contain policy riders, and one of those riders will be a revision to a 2008 trafficking law to expedite deportations of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border. Reality is sinking in among Democratic leaders that a condition of giving the president the money to stem the border crisis will be swallowing what for them is a bitter pill, one they say would strip children of key protections against exploitation and harm in their home countries.

Democratic leaders sense that a growing number of their members, particularly those who hail from the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses, are prepared to withhold their votes on those grounds, meaning they will have to either appeal to their members to hold their noses and vote “yes” or stand with them and vote “no.” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has already begun to harden her stance against changing the 2008 law after saying it wouldn’t be a “deal breaker” for her, though she still has not drawn a line in the sand regarding how she would vote if the language was included.

There could be practical consequences attached to not supporting the funding bill: Republicans could need Democratic votes to get the legislation over the finish line. But there could also be political consequences, with “no” votes opening Democrats up to criticism from Republicans that Pelosi and her party were in favor of the tweaks before they were against them, and that Democrats are turning away from their own party leadership. Speaker John A. Boehner seized upon that talking point Tuesday morning, suggesting in a statement that Democratic leaders’ waffling could jeopardize the entire effort.

Third, both parties are in for a challenging whip operation. If House Republicans want to pass a border funding package that could have some viability in the Senate, it’s going to have to be at least somewhat bipartisan, and they’re going to have to get Democratic votes. In that case, with Republicans on the right reluctant to support legislation that doesn’t contain red-meat policy provisions, and Democrats on the left unwilling to make compromises on changes to the trafficking law, leaders on both sides of the aisle are going to have to corral votes from middle. It’s likely Republicans will have to reach out to Democrats to make a deal, but Democrats won’t necessarily want to help, especially when there’s continued angst over riders and leaders could see an opening to extract compromises in exchange for their votes.

The challenge could be compounded by House GOP leadership’s current state of flux. Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia has been largely out of the loop since losing his June 10 primary — to an opponent who targeted Cantor’s support for an immigration overhaul, no less — and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, slated to replace Cantor on Aug. 1, has been basically working two jobs. The incoming whip, current Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is also dealing with the transition.

A GOP leadership aide close to the whip operation insisted that McCarthy and Scalise are working double-duty in anticipation of their new roles, and said their collaboration and engagement on this particular issue leaves them well prepared to tackle the most ambitious of vote counts. It’s the Democrats’ indecision on where they stand, the aide said, that is making things complicated.

Fourth, the House is stymied by money and time. Republicans are in agreement that the president’s $3.7 billion ask is too high, but how much they want to cut is another sticking point. For some GOP lawmakers, no topline number will be fiscally prudent enough; others might quibble that too conservative a sum might not fund all of the necessarily priorities outlined by the working group.

There’s also the question of whether the funds will be offset or classified as “emergency,” per Obama’s request. Republicans would all prefer the funding to be paid for, even those who don’t insist on it — though there’s a substantial number of members who do. Members don’t, however, know where to find such offsets, with non-controversial savings hard to come by. Whether appropriators are able to present members with a viable option could determine whether the package has enough votes to advance.

All this is taking place as days left until the August recess are down to the single digits.

Should Congress fail to act now, it could pick things back up in September, but the legislative days then are numbered too, before members go off to campaign in advance of the midterms. Plus, they could find themselves consumed with another piece of pressing business: A deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of that month.

 

Related:

The Other Side of the Border: CQ Roll Call’s Special Report from Guatemala

President’s Party Asks Why He’s Avoiding the Border

Obama ‘Happy to Consider’ Sending National Guard to Border to get Votes on Supplemental

A Tale of Two Congressional Visits to the Southwest Border

Obama Asking Congress for $4.3 Billion for Border Crisis, Wildfires

Alone, Illegal and Underage: The Child Migrant Crisis

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Johnson: Ignoring Border Crisis is Not an Option for Congress (Updated) (Video)

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Homeland Security Secretary Johnson says Congress can’t ignore the administration’s request for emergency funds on the border. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:54 p.m. | “Doing nothing in Congress is not an option,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday, as the clock ticks down out for Congress to provide emergency funding to address the influx of migrant children at the Texas border.

Johnson echoed a warning that he stressed at a July 10 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, saying that the emergency funding from President Barack Obama is critical to addressing the crisis.

“At the current burn rate, given the capacity we’ve had to surge to deal with this issue, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will run out of money in August. Customs and Border Protection will run out of money in mid September,” Johnson said at a press conference at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters Tuesday afternoon. Full story

Boehner on Obamacare: ‘It Cannot Be Fixed’

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Boehner and other Republicans said the court ruling is an indication Obamacare is broken. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On the same day a federal appeals court upheld an IRS subsidy for Obamacare, GOP lawmakers seized on the opportunity of a conflicting ruling — Halbig v. Burwell — to make the point that the 2010 health care law is broken.

After a 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the government could not subsidize insurance in the 36 states that defaulted to the federal health care exchanges, Speaker John A. Boehner offered one of his harshest rebukes of the Affordable Care Act yet, saying the ruling was further proof the law is “completely unworkable.”

“It cannot be fixed,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pa., sent out a joint press release that called the Halbig ruling “a clear rebuke of the administration’s effort to extend subsidies where the law did not provide them.”

“The ruling also dramatically limits the IRS’ legal authority to enforce the individual and employer mandates,” the missive said.

That is true — or, at least, it could be true, if the rest of the D.C. Circuit Court agrees. The administration has asked the rest of the court — all 11 judges — to review the decision “en banc,” and even if the liberal-leaning court agrees, there are other cases before other courts that could undermine the decision. Full story

July 18, 2014

Anger on Capitol Hill Grows as Details on Flight MH17 Emerge

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Thornberry said Obama needs to increase the defense budget. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:29 p.m. | Members of Congress from both parties and chambers took to the airwaves, to social media and the Internet Friday to express a growing anger over indications of Russian involvement in the missile attack that took down an airliner and all 298 aboard over Ukraine on Thursday.

In an appearance on Fox News, Rep. Mac Thornberry, expected to be the next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that President Barack Obama needs to move immediately to increase the U.S. defense budget. The Texas Republican also said Obama should look at how President Ronald Reagan handled a similar incident in the 1980s when Russia shot down a Korean airliner.

“I went back and looked at President Reagan’s statement after the Korean airline downer and I’m struck by the fact that he used very clear language, he called it a massacre, he called it an act of barbarism, he called the Soviets out for not telling the truth,” Thornberry said. “Even more important than what he said was what he did. He took several steps to isolate the Soviets … and he called on Congress to increase the defense budget. That’s what the president needs to do in a few minutes.” Full story

July 17, 2014

GOP Task Force Member Says Border Crisis Recommendations Will Be Released Thursday

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Rep. Salmon, R-Ariz. (By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 2:19 p.m. | The House GOP working group tasked with making policy recommendations on how to manage the influx of unaccompanied child migrants on the Southwest border will hand off its formal report to Republican leaders on Thursday, members confirmed.

The proposals contained in that report – which isn’t likely to be made public until next week, according to an aide familiar with the working group – will help the House Appropriations Committee finalize its bill to provide funding to stem the border crisis.

Outstanding disagreements about topline numbers, offsets and controversial policy riders, however, still leave the chances for House passage of an appropriations package before the August recess tenuous at best. Full story

July 16, 2014

Lawmakers Battle Over Legal Arguments for Boehner Lawsuit (Video)

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House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions defended the lawsuit against Obama in Wednesday’s hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

 

Is Boehner’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama a way to protect the Constitution’s balance of power or an ill-conceived waste of tax dollars lacking any legal merit?

Those were the conflicting assessments offered up in Wednesday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the proposed lawsuit by politicians and legal experts on opposite sides of the aisle.

The constitutional experts who testified before the panel split on whether the lawsuit, which Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to bring before the House for a vote next week, poses a real legal threat to the White House’s increasing reliance on executive actions. Full story

House Backs Financial Services Bill With Steep Cuts to IRS

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House on Wednesday passed its seventh fiscal 2015 appropriations measure, backing a Financial Services spending bill that would make steep cuts in funding for the Internal Revenue Service.

The $20.2 billion measure (HR 5016) was passed 228-195 in a largely party line vote. It marks the first time since 2007 the House has moved the bill as stand-alone legislation. The White House has threatened to veto the measure due in part to the IRS cuts, other reductions in financial regulatory oversight and policy riders aimed at the District of Columbia.

The IRS would receive $9.8 billion under the measure, a 13 percent cut to current spending levels. Lawmakers adopted amendments that would cut the tax collector’s enforcement budget by nearly 25 percent on voice votes, delivering a slap to an embattled agency that has weathered a series of budget cuts in recent years.

Democrats accused Republicans of tunnel vision when it comes to the IRS, a focus of GOP attacks since revelations surfaced in May 2013 of alleged political targeting at the agency. The bill includes several policy riders aimed at scaling back the reach of the agency. Full story

House Lawmakers Critical of Proposed Counterterrorism Fund

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Smith, left, has concerns about a lack of oversight. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Pentagon leaders faced heavy opposition from the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to the Obama administration’s requested counterterrorism partnership fund, with members from both parties raising concerns that the proposed $5 billion account amounts to little more than a slush fund for the Defense Department.

The $5 billion for the broadly defined counterterrorism account is just a small part of the administration’s $60 billion request for overseas contingency operations. But lawmakers said they feared it would allow the military to avoid congressional oversight, spending the money on anything that is even tangentially related to combating terrorists around the world.

“If you wanted to take this money and use it to refuel an aircraft carrier, there is nothing in this language that stop you from doing that,” Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said during the hearing. “We’ve got to fence it in somehow. And my understanding is it’s not terribly well fenced. That’s a structural problem, and it’s also a concern that it isn’t as well thought out as it should have been,” he added.

Under the administration’s proposal, the Defense Department would receive $4 billion from the counterterrorism fund, with the State Department getting $1 billion. Full story

House Panels Act on Lerner Resolutions

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The IRS has been under intense scrutiny regarding Lerner’s missing emails. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two House panels swept aside Wednesday resolutions that would require the Pentagon and the Justice Department to produce any emails in its possession from embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner.

The House Armed Services Committee reported the measure (H Res 649), sponsored by Texas Republican Steve Stockman, to the full House without recommendation by voice vote. The House Judiciary Committee also acted on legislation (H Res 646)  calling on the Justice Department to hand over emails of Lerner tied to the tax agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The Armed Services markup, which lasted roughly 10 minutes and saw terse debate, took place ahead of a hearing with Pentagon officials on the details of the president’s $58.6 billion fiscal 2015 request for Overseas Contingency Operations, which would primarily fund military operations in Afghanistan. Outside of its annual defense authorization measure, the panel rarely marks up legislation.

The measure considered by the Armed Services panel would call for the Defense secretary and the director of the National Security Agency to provide the House with any emails sent to, or received from Lerner between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 30, 2011. Full story

House Democratic Women Calling for ‘Clean’ Border Funding Bill

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California Democrats Loretta Sanchez and Lucille Roybal-Allard, seen standing here with fellow members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, want a “clean” border funding bill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A group of House Democratic women are circulating a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner calling for a “clean” funding bill to bolster resources at the U.S.-Mexico border.

They are in particular warning against the inclusion of language that would tweak a 2008 trafficking law they argue would strip apprehended immigrant minors — especially young girls — of protections against speedy removals back to their home countries where they face likely face imminent danger. Full story

July 15, 2014

House GOP Scores Short Highway Trust Fund Extension

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Republicans and Democrats in the House joined forces to avert a shutdown of highway transportation funding. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A short-term extension of highway funding easily passed the House in a 367-55 vote Tuesday, setting up a rare bipartisan cross-Dome deal that will likely avert a shutdown of construction projects around the country.

Neither side heralded the bill as a breakthrough in bipartisanship, but House Republican leaders scored a tactical victory by crafting a package that the White House endorsed, many Democrats voted for and that passed over the objections of conservative outside groups.

Only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voted against the patch. Full story

Hoyer Predicts Easy Passage of ‘Gimmicky’ Highway Bill

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Hoyer predicts “gimmicky” highway bill will pass. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland predicted Democrats will overwhelmingly support a short-term highway trust fund bill on Tuesday, even though they would prefer a long-term fix with more solid pay-fors.

Hoyer said he will vote for the bill, which extends highway funding through May, but called the offsets used to pay for the bill “gimmicky.”

“I think there will be probably overwhelming support,” he said. “When you’re confronted at the end with, ‘You do this or we shut down,’ we’re not for shutting down. We think that the economy would be hurt, people would be hurt, jobs would be lost.” Full story

July 14, 2014

In Race for Oversight Chairmanship, Turner Lays Out Different Direction

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Turner wants to be Issa’s successor as Oversight and Government Reform chairman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Under California Republican Darrell Issa, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been the Obama administration’s No. 1 enemy on Capitol Hill, with high-profile hearings on everything from Benghazi to the IRS, to Operation Fast and Furious.

That kind of oversight is part of the committee’s job, according to Rep. Michael R. Turner, an Ohio Republican who is one of the leading candidates to succeed the term-limited Issa as chairman.

But the panel known on the Hill simply as “Oversight” also has the word “reform” in its title, Turner noted. And that aspect of the committee’s mission, he said, will be more of a focus if he takes over the chairmanship.

“I enjoy fixing things,” the six-term congressman said during a sit-down interview in his Rayburn office on July 10. And beyond government waste and inefficiency, one of the things he wants to fix is a committee that “can use some reform itself.” Full story

July 11, 2014

Hispanic Caucus Lobbying to Block Trafficking Change

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The CHC held a news conference Friday to discuss changes to a trafficking law. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about Republican calls to revise a 2008 human trafficking law in exchange for approving President Barack Obama’s $3.8 billion supplemental funding request to address the child migrant crisis at the Southwest border.

Liberals are doubling down on their efforts to fight for passage of what they call a “clean” supplemental, as some of their colleagues signal they are open to making concessions.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at her weekly news conference Thursday that revisiting the 2008 trafficking law was “not a deal breaker” when it came to her vote on the funding request, with Obama having already said he was open to it, too.

But at a Friday immigration-focused news conference convened by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, members directed their ire at fellow CHC colleague, Rep. Henry Cuellar. Full story

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