Senate border bill doomed?

Greg Nash

Momentum for passing a border crisis bill is building in the House but the legislative effort in the Senate is headed for failure due to Democratic defections and staunch GOP opposition. 

House Republicans said they have new hope for passing an emergency funding bill to address the Texas border crisis after a positive conference meeting Friday morning.

“It was a good conversation which will continue through the weekend,” said a House GOP leadership aide.

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The Senate Democratic border proposal, however, which totals $3.57 billion, is headed for certain failure next week because of unified GOP opposition and the defection of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

Senate Republicans say they do not expect anyone from their ranks to vote for the measure because it does not include language amending the legal rights of unaccompanied minors from Central America or sufficiently improve border security.

“It’s doubtful it will get Republican support because it doesn’t do anything to secure the border and nothing to reduce incentives for kids to come illegally. It spends money without any accountability or improving the border situation,” said a senior Senate GOP aide.

Landrieu said she would oppose the supplemental because it did not include appropriate safeguards to ensure the money would be spent effectively.

“Four weeks ago I stated those concerns and they haven’t changed. One, I’ve not seen a real commitment for accountability before we spend any additional money. I have not seen any real language about accountability, naming one of the departments to be the lead,” she said.

Landrieu said she was especially concerned about what she called the State Department’s “weak and some could argue failed policies in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras when it comes to child protection and family protection issues.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another centrist, is on the fence about voting for the Senate’s stand-alone spending bill.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is holding out hope her spending package can pass.

“Given the urgency, we certainly hope to win bipartisan support for the supplemental,” said a committee spokesman.

If House Republicans pass legislation providing emergency funding and making policy changes to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors, that will put pressure on the Senate to accept it.

“The House can say, ‘We took action, the Senate wouldn’t take up our bill, they couldn’t pass their own bill,’” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist.

The House GOP leadership hopes to move a measure giving Obama less than $1 billion to address the crisis and attach proposals recommended by a working group headed by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas).

Granger said Republicans are likely to include changes to a 2008 human trafficking law that would treat unaccompanied minors from Central America the same as those from Mexico, who are often deported in a matter of days. Children from Guatemala and El Salvador can wait for years in the United States while their cases play out in court.

Granger’s proposals to add more immigration judges to speed the processing of children from Central America and deploy the National Guard to the Southern border also have support.

“I think our conference is coming together behind a solution to this problem,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the incoming Majority Whip, told reporters.  

One Democratic strategist, however, questioned the ability of the House GOP leadership to pass something over the objections of conservatives such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

“Steve King sees everything as a vehicle for immigration reform. Do you think the Steve King caucus is going to let [Speaker John] Boehner [R-Ohio] do anything? He’s the only member of the Republican Conference that’s been able to get immigration measures voted on the floor,” said Jose Parra, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

King recently invited Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to a breakfast meeting with 20 House conservatives where the freshman senator warned them against passing legislation that could be gutted and rewritten by Reid.

Senate Democratic leaders say they have no interest in adding language that they argue would undermine the due process rights of kids fleeing violence.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said it would lose more Democratic votes if it included “qualifying language” amending the 2008 trafficking law.

“Many of us are wary of that. First, we think the president has all the authority he needs,” he said.

He warned that using the spending bill to rewrite immigration policy could open the door to other objectionable language, such as Cruz’s bill to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“The overwhelming majority of Democrats believe it’s a mistake,” Durbin said of the policy changes favored by Republicans.   

Democratic and Republican aides say it appears unlikely their two sides will reach a deal to pass emergency funds for the Texas border before Congress leaves for a five-week recess at the end of the month.  

A Democratic aide said the Senate’s emergency border bill would probably come up for a vote at the middle or end of next week.

Democratic strategists say the failure will be blamed on Republicans.

“At the end of the day Republicans end up losing on this because it is seen as so attached to the immigration issue,” said

Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “There are two things that will be more damaging for Republicans. Number one, if nothing gets done, this continues the narrative that Republicans just want to obstruct.

“Number two, a lot of Latino voters just believe that this Republican Congress wants to do absolutely nothing on immigration,” she added. “When they talk about immigration, the only thing they can talk about is securing the border.”

Parra agreed that Republicans would bear the brunt of the responsibility for the border crisis because of their refusal to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

He argued that families from Central America would not pay smugglers thousands of dollars to take their children to the United States if there was an expanded and orderly legal process for handling asylum requests.

Peter Schroeder and Cristina Marcos contributed.