By Mike Lillis - 07/10/14 06:00 AM EDT
Republicans are sharply divided over how to handle President Obama’s $3.7 billion border request.
Conservatives on Wednesday balked at the administration’s price tag for providing relief to authorities overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of children illegally crossing the border.
Yet with the crisis escalating and Obama passing the ball into Congress’s court by asking for legislation, there’s an emerging concern that Republicans could suffer a political backlash if they fail to act.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a longtime supporter of an immigration overhaul, said failure to provide new funds will exacerbate the crisis while handing Obama and the Democrats a political victory heading into the midterm elections.
“If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem,” Graham told reporters Wednesday.
Obama sought to raise the pressure on Congress by calling for lawmakers to make quick work of his request.
In public comments in Dallas, Obama called on Congress to “fast track” the legislation.
Republicans will likely mark up their own legislation in response to the crisis, and it will almost certainly focus more heavily on efforts to bolster border security.
The dynamics will put Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a familiar bind.
Boehner has struggled during this Congress to rally his troops behind difficult legislation, and few issues are more controversial on Capitol Hill than immigration, where Boehner has bowed all year to conservatives in deciding against bringing legislation to the floor.
By moving to the right, the Speaker can satisfy some conservative concerns, but he risks alienating the Democratic votes he’ll likely need to usher the bill through the lower chamber. By sticking close to Obama’s plan, he’ll win praise from Democrats but risk a revolt from Republicans who already say they don’t trust Obama to direct resources wisely.
Boehner on Wednesday declined to weigh in on Obama’s proposal, saying only that he’s waiting on recommendations from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and a GOP working group led by Rep. Kay Granger (Texas) that’s expected to provide its first assessment of Obama’s plan on Tuesday.
“I’ll await what they’ve got to say,” Boehner told reporters in the Capitol.
But behind closed doors, the Speaker told his troops that he hopes to move a bill addressing the crisis this month, according to a House leadership aide.
The pushback from conservatives, highlighting the radioactive nature of the issue at hand, was immediate.
“I think the president has set it up to make it look as though the only reason he’s not enforcing the border is that he doesn’t have the money, and that’s not accurate,” said Mulvaney, who is frequently at odds with House leaders.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), another Tea Party-backed conservative, also suggested Congress should stay on the sidelines and let Obama manage the crisis on his own. Despite GOP criticism that Obama has habitually abused his executive authority, Fleming said the president, in handling the young immigrants, “is not using the administrative capabilities that he has.”
“That’s the problem,” he said.
Graham acknowledged that some conservatives, citing cost concerns, “will probably never give in at all.” But for Republican leaders to do nothing, he cautioned, would be a mistake.
“Money is necessary because it truly is an emergency,” Graham said. “Our capacity is being overwhelmed here.”
The wave of illegal immigrants has filled detention centers, clogged immigration courts and swamped local governments attempting to manage the surge.
Obama’s proposal includes $1.8 billion for the Health and Human Services Department to provide “appropriate care” for the immigrants; $1.5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to beef up its border presence; $300 million for the State Department to help stabilize the Central American countries that many of the immigrants are fleeing; and $64 million for the Justice Department to hire more immigration judges and asylum lawyers.
Some Republicans, including Fleming and Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), are already warning that they won’t accept any package if its cost isn’t offset. Yet, any cuts they propose will likely draw opposition from Obama and the Democrats, who think the crisis merits some deficit spending to quicken the process.
Other Republicans want more resources dedicated to the quick deportation of most of the immigrants. That, too, will raise concerns from Democrats, who are wary of scaling back any due process protections afforded the immigrants under existing law.
Both sides are laying down the markers of what’s acceptable.
“If there are some revisions that can be made to help us beef up the process of adjudication, that would be worthwhile,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday.
“I haven’t heard anyone proposing that we undermine due process for children,” he added. “If that’s what they mean by changes in the law, then I would be absolutely against it.”