House Republicans put off long recess for last-ditch border push

Greg Nash

House Republicans abruptly delayed their August recess on Thursday to stay in Washington and try to pass legislation responding to the border crisis.

After GOP leaders pulled their $659 million spending bill from the schedule, it appeared the House would leave Washington having failed to approve a measure dealing with the wave of immigrant children crossing the border.

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But an outcry from rank-and-file members ended that plan, and GOP leaders are now trying to figure out how to change their legislation to win over the votes necessary to send the bill to the Senate.

“We'll stay until we vote,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said as he exited a meeting of the House Republican conference Thursday afternoon that dragged on for more than 90 minutes.

No vote has been scheduled yet on Friday, and even if the House is able to approve a measure it will be going nowhere fast. The Senate is expected to leave Washington to begin its own recess on Thursday night.

Still, House Republicans want to show that they can take action on the border, and many members did not want to leave Washington without even holding a vote.

House Republicans will reconvene for another conference meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Leaving Thursday afternoon’s meeting, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment.

“Just relax,” Boehner said. “[We're] working with our members.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who assumed the House majority leader spot just hours before, said he wasn't discouraged by the chaos surrounding his first big vote.

“I wouldn't be here if it were easy,” he said.

Members expect that the whip team will host smaller meetings with rank-and-file members over the course of Thursday evening to try to build support.

“We don’t vote until we get 218,” said Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.). “What leadership is going to do is sit down with each of those members, find out what it would take them to get to a yes. And I don’t think it’s that far apart to get to yes…maybe it’s just a matter of education.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said the opponents are now “a relatively small group” and even most of them want to remain in Washington to get something done. 

GOP leaders pulled their bill from the schedule once it was clear it didn’t have the votes. Democrats were relatively united in opposing it, and many conservatives opposed sending the White House any money for the border.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was already at Washington's National Airport on his way home when “the call came in” to get back to the Capitol for the GOP meeting.

GOP leaders face a tall order in moving the bill unless they make changes to it.

Leadership tried to win over conservatives by setting up a separate vote to prevent President Obama from expanding his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The House would have voted on that bill if it had approved the $659 million in funding, but the promise of the DACA vote wasn’t enough of a sweetener for opponents.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Congress shouldn’t start its recess until the “job is completed” on the border crisis.

The Republican governor of the state at the heart of the crisis said in a statement it was “beyond belief” that Congress is abandoning its post while people are suffering on the border.

“While Texas has taken what steps it can to mitigate the damage caused by a porous border, Congress and the President have a duty to address our border security issues without further delay. Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said the inability of the House to pass a measure would make it hard for members to face their constituents over the recess.

“I'm going to have some 'splainin' to do,” Farenthold said before it became clear the House would not immediately leave town.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) was a major influence among the Alabama delegation in opposing the border bill Thursday.

“Jeff Sessions is probably held in higher esteem than the Alabama football coach and the Auburn football coach put together. That's pretty high esteem,” Brooks said.

At the same time, it was clear tensions were simmering between House Republicans and conservative senators like Sessions and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

“I don’t tell Jeff how to vote. He doesn’t tell me how to vote,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.). “If Ted or Jeff will send us a bill, maybe we can vote on their bill.”

Bachus even went so far as to show his voting card to reporters, noting that it has his face on it, and no one else's.

Similarly, many members from Texas were pushing for the House to come together on a bill despite Cruz’s opposition.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) thought House Republicans could reach an agreement by the time they reconvene Friday morning. 

“Maybe I'm being overly hopeful here, but I think it's going to be resolved by tomorrow morning,” King said.

Rep. Raul Labrador said if the House stays too long, he’ll have to miss events on Saturday for his son's wedding.

“If we have to stay here 'til the weekend, then I’m going to miss that. But let’s just get it done,” he said.

Mike Lillis, Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker contributed.

This story was posted at 4:09 p.m. and updated at 6:46 p.m. 

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