Hoyer: GOP ‘throwing dice’ with border bill

Anne Wernikoff

House Republicans are gambling with the fate of their border-funding bill if they bank on Democratic support to pass the measure, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Tuesday.

"If they need it, they're throwing dice," Hoyer, the Democratic whip, said during a briefing in the Capitol. "I don't know how much support there's going to be on this side for their proposition."

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GOP leaders said they think they can rally enough Republicans to pass their newly introduced $659 million package addressing the migrant crisis at the border. But with a number of conservatives already lining up in opposition, it remains unclear if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will need Democrats to get the bill to the Senate.

Hoyer, along with most Democrats, has been highly critical of the GOP's push to amend a 2008 human trafficking law as part of the emergency package, saying Congress simply doesn't have enough time to consider such policy changes in the short window left before the August recess.

The Republicans' proposal would change the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to make it easier for the Obama administration to deport unaccompanied minors crossing into the country.

On Tuesday, Hoyer amplified his concerns about that provision, warning that the policy changes will not only alienate Democrats in the House, but will almost certainly sink the bill in the Senate. 

"By putting legislative language in this emergency supplemental, they make it very unlikely that we will have the resources in the short term to meet the challenge that everybody admits exists," he said. 

Hoyer emphasized that he's open to discussing changes to the 2008 law, but only outside the context of the emergency spending bill. 

"We have to respond to the immediate challenge, which means money and resources to accommodate the numbers [of migrants]. And then, if we are to consider substantive legislation, we ought to do that in the regular order," Hoyer said. "There will be no time to consider the ramifications [in August]. … It is the opposite of considered, thoughtful judgment."

Unveiled Tuesday, the Republicans’ border bill would provide $659 million in funding for the border crisis through the end of September. Aside from making deportations easier, the package would also require the administration to deploy National Guard troops to the border, increase funding for immigration judges and empower Border Patrol agents to access federally protected lands.

Republicans are expected to vote on the bill Thursday, just before the House adjourns for a five-week August vacation.

Boehner predicted Tuesday that GOP leaders will have "sufficient support" to pass the package through the lower chamber, though he acknowledged that they're still in search of votes.

“We've got a little more work to do," he said.

A number of conservatives are lining up to oppose the package. Some say the spending level is simply too high, while others are lamenting the absence of language ending Obama's deferred action program, which allows some immigrants to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation.

“The package is not going to become law,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Tuesday. “It gives members cover to go home for August.”

Without any Democratic support, GOP leaders could lose 17 Republicans and still pass the bill. 

A growing chorus of House Democrats, meanwhile, is vowing to oppose the measure based on the changes to the 2008 law and the National Guard provision. 

"We will vote against it, and they will not have the votes to pass it," Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) warned Tuesday.

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, also suggested the legislative changes would erode almost all Democratic support. 

The riders, Crowley warned, "are an attempt to discourage any Democratic participation." 

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