GOP shifts plans on border bill

A border security bill pulled from the House floor this week may have to be “married” with a separate bill because of concerns about whether the Homeland Security or Judiciary panel oversees the issue of interior enforcement.

House GOP leaders told members in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that they’re still trying to figure out how to bring the bill from Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul back to the floor given “jurisdictional issues on McCaul’s committee and the Judiciary Committee’s interior responsibilities,” said a GOP lawmaker who attended the gathering.

The House was set to vote on the Texas Republican’s border bill on Wednesday. But Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday pulled the legislation from the floor schedule amid objections from conservatives and a winter snowstorm that disrupted lawmakers trying to return to Washington.

After the meeting, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) told reporters no decisions had been made yet about when the bill might return to the floor, a point reiterated by leadership aides.

But Boehner noted that some of the conservative attacks focused on issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, not McCaul’s Homeland Security panel.

The criticism wasn’t aimed at “the border bill itself. Frankly these issues weren’t even in the committee’s jurisdiction,” Boehner said. “So we’re gonna have to walk through all of this with our members. When we’re ready to move, we’ll move.”

Asked about leaders yanking both the border bill this week and an abortion bill last week, Boehner conceded, “Yeah, there have been a couple stumbles.”

But he added: “All of our efforts are to show the American people that we’re here to listen to their priorities.”

The go-slow approach was praised by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who tweeted: “Thanks to house of Rep not moving ahead w BorderSecurity bill. It wld not secure border. Now House has time to marry that w Judiciary bill.”

The McCaul legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to prevent all illegal crossings into the U.S. within five years, and would give the agency billions of dollars for drones, fencing and other technology and equipment.

The legislation has put GOP leaders in a familiar pickle on immigration reform. They’re caught between opposition from Democrats who say the changes are too tough on families and conservatives who say they don't go far enough to ensure the enforcement of current laws.

Although McCaul has characterized his bill as “the most significant and toughest border security bill ever set before Congress,” critics in both chambers argue that it's weak when it comes to interior enforcement and deterring migrants from crossing the border.

“We cannot be satisfied with measures that create the appearance of doing something while changing little,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), among Congress's most conservative voices on the topic, said last week in criticizing McCaul's proposal.

The conservative attacks led McCaul and Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteObama commutes sentences of 98 inmates The hidden controversy over online shopping Report: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas MORE (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to take the rare step of releasing a joint statement saying most of the criticisms of the McCaul bill were misplaced because the Judiciary panel has jurisdiction over issues like interior enforcement.

The chairmen vowed to join forces in crafting separate legislation that address all pieces of the border-enforcement puzzle.

During Tuesday’s private meeting, leaders told members they would be able to offer amendments to the McCaul bill in the coming days, according to Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was in the room. Gosar plans to offer several, including one that would give states a chance to provide more input on how to secure the border.

“What people are realizing is that what works in California may not work in Arizona,” Gosar said. “There’s got to be some flexibility.”