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Divided House GOP delays recess to find agreement on border bill

July 31, 2014 at 6:20 PM EST
House GOP members were called back for another day in hopes of passing a bill, but the divided Congress will likely leave Washington without an agreement on addressing the tens of thousands of migrant children arriving at the southern border. NewsHour Capitol Hill producer Quinn Bowman reports on the political seesaw and Judy Woodruff gets an update from Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As we heard, it was a confusing day on Capitol Hill, with deep divisions over immigration and what can be done to address a surge of migrant children flooding across the border.

Federal agencies handling the crisis say they will run out of money in mid-August if nothing is done. And lawmakers are about to leave town for a five-week recess.

NewsHour Capitol Hill producer Quinn Bowman reports on today’s political seesaw.

WOMAN: All time for debate has expired.

QUINN BOWMAN: The first sign of trouble came midday, when Republican leaders abruptly called off a vote on their border bill.

But less than two hours later, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy informed lawmakers there still could be a vote, which led to this exchange with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, Majority Leader: I want to advise all members that additional votes are possible today.

REP. STENY HOYER, Minority Whip: We’re going to have to call some members back. They already left, on the representation that this was the last vote of the day. I would imagine you have some members that are in that category themselves.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think it is possible to advise all members that it is possible to have votes later today. I’m hopeful that, by late this afternoon, we will be able to notify the time of it.

(BOOING)

QUINN BOWMAN: In a statement, GOP leaders said they will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis. But they added, “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.”

With near-unanimous Democratic opposition, Republican leaders needed the support of the vast majority of their members, but many voiced skepticism of the proposal in advance of the vote.

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama:

REP. MO BROOKS, R-Ala.: We can easily solve this problem by spending as little as $30 million a year with respect to the illegal alien children because we know that that is how much it costs to fly every illegal alien child back to their home country and reunite them with their families.

QUINN BOWMAN: The measure offered by GOP leaders would have cost $659 million over the next two months. That total is far less than the $1.5 billion House Republicans initially sought. Of that, some $400 million would have gone to the Department of Homeland Security to boost Border Patrol operations.

Another $197 million had been targeted for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with caring for the children. The House plan also sought to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush. It required that unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico and Canada receive a hearing before deportation.

The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, called the new proposal mean-spirited.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: But let’s give the children a fair shot. Let’s do better than this. It is not a statement of values. It is a statement of meanness.

QUINN BOWMAN: In order to entice some conservative lawmakers to support the spending plan, GOP leaders also proposed a vote to defund President Obama’s deferred action program. That policy, implemented by the president in 2012, protects undocumented immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. as children.

Speaker Boehner said his members wanted to make clear to the president that they wouldn’t accept any more unilateral steps.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: And when the president takes these actions, he will be sealing deal on his legacy — legacy of lawlessness.

QUINN BOWMAN: In the end, that wasn’t enough to sway wary conservatives.

On the other side of the Capitol, meanwhile, senators continued debate on a $2.7 billion plan put forward by Democrats, $1 billion less than the president’s request. That proposal includes spending for additional detention facilities and more immigration judges to process migrants. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version doesn’t tweak the 2008 trafficking law.

But, with little sign of an agreement, both sides today traded blame.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the president to step up and lead.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader: Congress can’t do it without your leadership or your engagement. It’s literally impossible to do this without you. So pick up that phone you keep telling us about. Call us.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: Take a position!

QUINN BOWMAN: Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont accused Republicans of standing in the way of progress.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It is so much easier not to do anything. Just let it sit there and say, oh, it must be President Obama’s fault. Oh, it must be the Senate’s fault. Oh, it must be somebody else’s fault. Or maybe it’s the fault of these 6- and 7-year-old children who are trying to escape being killed or molested.

QUINN BOWMAN: With sharp divisions on both sides of the Capitol, lawmakers appeared set to leave for a five-week recess with no resolution to the border crisis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on today’s events, The Washington post’s Ed O’Keefe joins us from Capitol Hill.

So, Ed, what a scene. The House Republican leadership had said they wanted a bill to deal with the border, but they couldn’t get it. What happened? 

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: Well, they pulled that bill very quickly, unexpectedly, earlier this afternoon, surprising everyone, including several members, as you heard, who had already headed for the airports.

But after a revolt of a handful of Republicans in, let’s say, more purple districts, places like California, New York, Pennsylvania, areas with growing Latino populations, also, they confronted Kevin McCarthy and the speaker on the floor of the House and said, no, we cannot leave Washington without having voted or at least trying to vote on something.

And so they were dragged into the basement of the Capitol for an emergency meeting. More than an hour later, they emerged to say that they will stay overnight here in Washington, have another meeting tomorrow, and probably vote on something at some point on Friday.

In essence, Judy, there was a deadline, there was a due date. The House didn’t meet it, and so the teacher is keeping them overnight, and they are going to have to try again tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is this issue important to the Republican House leadership?

ED O’KEEFE: Well, it’s important for a few reasons, one, for the broader political argument of responding to President Obama, who asked for the money and who Republicans say has created this crisis by not doing certain things.

Also, you run the risk of having the president go out and do other executive actions over the course of the August recess, and then Republicans would turn around and say, well, here he goes again doing things on his own without talking to Congress. And yet the White House in this case could turn around and say, well, you had an opportunity to do so and you didn’t.

And that’s a valid argument. And there are dozens of Republicans in swing districts in states like California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, New York, that if they go home having at least not voted for something very well could now face more perilous reelection fights come November.

I talked to Blake Farenthold, who is a Republican, a pretty rank-and-file and loyal Republican from Texas who represents a districts with a growing Hispanic population. And he said, look, I have got town hall meetings all next week. If I go back without their having done something, without having voted on something related to this issue, he said — quote — “I will have some explaining to do.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you also have conservative Republicans who are saying, absolutely, that I only don’t want to give this money to the president. They don’t want to give the president the ability to expand this — this, if you will, amnesty program for children, the so-called dreamers, expanding that to these other children coming across the border.

ED O’KEEFE: That’s right.

And we have seen all sorts of division in the Republican ranks over the years, whether it’s on fiscal policy, now on immigration policy. And this is part of the reason why we have not yet seen this House, this Republican-led House, vote on significant immigration legislation, because the differences are just so big, that they haven’t been able to bridge the divide.

And so, somehow, tonight, overnight, Republican leaders are supposed to meet with that group of Republicans who say, no, unless you’re shutting down the deferred action program for those immigrants that President Obama put in place a few years ago, unless you’re doing like sending National Guard troops to the border or fortifying physically parts of the border, they can’t vote for it.

And, yet, on the flip side, there are other Republicans who are in sensitive and difficult reelection fights where doing that kind of thing might be a bridge too far. It’s a very difficult situation. It’s an early test for the new leadership team. With Eric Cantor gone now, Kevin McCarthy has risen to the majority leader position, and it puts him in a tricky position as he starts his new job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it does look like a vote tomorrow morning?

ED O’KEEFE: That is our latest guidance. The Senate is going to finish up its work tonight on a host of issues. And we will see whether or not the House can get it done and allow members to go home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post, we thank you.

ED O’KEEFE: Take care, Judy.