White House threatens to veto border bill; parties whip votes

The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the House Republican border bill as GOP leaders scrambled to get the votes to pass it. 

Less than 24 hours before Congress will leave Washington for a five-week recess, there was little to no hope that a bipartisan deal to address the border crisis would be reached. [READ WHIP LIST ON HOUSE GOP BORDER BILL.]

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Senate Democrats are struggling to rally enough support for their $2.7 billion measure, while House Republicans hoped to wrangle enough backing from their conservative wing to overcome staunch Democratic opposition to their $659 million short-term package.

The White House jumped into the congressional fray Wednesday, slamming the House package as grossly insufficient and full of policy changes that would undercut due process for endangered children and set arbitrary timelines for processing immigration cases.

“H.R. 5230 could make the situation worse, not better,” the administration said. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the bill “inhumane.”

Until Wednesday’s veto threat, the White House had largely stayed out of the legislative jockeying on Capitol Hill.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “In terms of the legislative machinations of all this, we’re going to rely on Congress to do its business in the way they think is most appropriate.”

Neither chamber had aligned sufficient support for their respective proposals when the administration vowed to kill the House bill.

Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on Wednesday voted against an early procedural motion for the bill — a clear signal that there will not be enough support to overcome an expected GOP filibuster of the package. To do so, all 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats and five Republicans would have to vote to overcome the filibuster. Both Hagan and Landrieu are GOP targets this fall.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted to advance the bill but said he would oppose it moving forward without “major changes.”

In the House, GOP leaders were still actively looking for support Wednesday evening, trying to overcome skepticism from some conservatives and broad Democratic opposition to the policy changes they paired with drastically limited spending.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday said, “I think there is sufficient support in the House. We have a little more work to do.”

This vote is a huge test of Boehner’s new leadership team in the wake of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) stunning primary loss last month. Passing this bill would be a big political victory for Boehner as well as his deputies, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.). If the legislation falls short, the White House and congressional Democrats will surely use the defeat over the August recess.

“We’re getting there, but we still have a ways to go,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), one of the leadership team’s new deputy whips. “We remain confident. But we’ve got to remain confident and work.”

Some conservative lawmakers declined to say whether they would back the leadership proposal. Several oppose sending the president any new funds, arguing his immigration policies created the problem in the first place.

An informal tally by The Hill identified nine Republicans who said they would oppose, or are inclined to oppose, the package. Republicans can lose 17 votes within their own party if no Democrats support it.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who opposes the bill, said lawmakers had approached him and suggested tweaks to the package that could win his vote.

“They’re really working it hard. That tells me that they don’t have it yet,” he said.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a Tea Party conservative who was part of last year’s failed bipartisan talks in search of an immigration reform deal, said he’s leaning toward supporting the measure.

But a sticking point for several on the right is the fact the spending package does nothing to address Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), argue that 2012 executive action sowed the seeds for the influx of child migrants, and that the matter cannot be adequately addressed without dismantling it.

Cruz at press time huddled with House Republicans in his office including Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Todd Rokita (Ind.) and Randy Neugebauer (Texas). 

Michael Needham, CEO of the outside conservative group Heritage Action, wrote Wednesday that DACA “effectively rolled out the welcome mat” to migrants, and said the border situation cannot be addressed without tackling it.

While Needham’s group frequently urges Republicans to stymie leadership initiatives, Heritage Action had not announced a key vote on the measure as of Wednesday evening.

Republicans in the House have struggled this Congress to pass controversial bills without Democratic support. The big question is how many Democrats will defect on Thursday.

Democratic leaders are actively working to build opposition to the bill, as many in the party oppose policy changes paired with the measure.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted Wednesday that “some” Democrats would cross the aisle to support the bill but said “we don’t think it’ll be a large number.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas)  is the only Democrat who is a firm yes.

A number of conservative-leaning Democrats remain wildcards as the vote approaches. Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Ron Barber (Ariz.) have declined to say how they’ll vote.

Blue Dog Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said he’s also undecided “but leaning against.”

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), another Blue Dog, said he’s “a toss-up,” but hinted he’d rather support an imperfect bill than leave town without passing something.

“We’ve got to do something, and we’ve got to do the best we can do given the situation,” Scott said. “There’s an urgency here.”

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