An emergency border spending package backed by the House GOP leadership appeared to be in trouble Wednesday evening after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBiden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions MORE (R-Texas) met with a group of House conservatives.
House conservatives emerging from a late evening meeting in Cruz’s office said they would oppose the $659 million legislation and warned it might fail on the House floor, an embarrassing prospect for the new GOP leadership team.
“It doesn’t sound like the Granger bill has the votes to pass,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who plans to vote against the border package endorsed by his leadership.
House leaders scrambled Wednesday evening to save the bill by promising conservatives a chance to vote on separate language curtailing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
They are also discussing legislation that would prevent Obama from easing deportations through executive action.
“There’s just a sense that they’re maneuvering in different ways to gather enough votes to pass something,” Fleming added. “For most of us conservatives, we’re unlikely to support it without [DACA] reform.
“Most of us feel like DACA is the main problem here. That’s what started this whole show and why we have such a disaster,” he said.
The pending bill favored by House GOP leaders includes $659 million in emergency funds to shore up federal agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol, both of which are projected to run out of money before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
It also includes policy changes recommended by the working group headed by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). One such proposed change would speed up the processing and deportation of unaccompanied minors from Central America, shortening the time frame to as quickly as a week. It would also deploy National Guard to the southern border and increase the number of immigration judges handling asylum requests from Central American refugees.
Cruz argues these policy changes will not stem the surge of unaccompanied minors across the Texas border and a group of House conservatives agree with him.
After meeting with Cruz Wednesday, conservatives expressed reluctance to support the leadership bill without reforms drastically curtailing DACA.
They note that since 2012, when Obama's adminstration changed deportation policy, the number of child immigrants has spiked.
“It’s not as attractive to me without DACA reform,” said Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas). “I’ve heard a number of members say that DACA they think is an important part of this solution.”
Conservatives said they will get a vote on legislation sponsored by Cruz and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) that would also halt federal funding for DACA and bar illegal immigrants from working.
Some House conservatives, however, said merely getting a vote on stopping DACA would not be enough to win their support for the bill crafted by Granger and the GOP leadership. They want the two proposals fused. They also want a provision that would block Obama from halting deportations through executive action, a change pro-immigrant advocates such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have demanded.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who attended the meeting with Cruz, said the two proposals should be joined together.
“What I’m hearing is that you’re going to have two votes tomorrow. One on the Appropriations Committee’s bill which has the Granger policy attached to it and have a second vote on the Blackburn bill that deals with DACA and prevents the president from legalizing the five million [illegal immigrants] he’s talking about legalizing in August.
“I hope they marry the two, frankly,” Broun said.
The House Rules Committee postponed action on setting up a vote on the border bill while GOP leaders hustled to make sure they had enough votes to pass it.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the panel, said it appeared stalled.
"We're on stand-by," Slaughter said. "The last thing I heard as I left the floor is they have no agreement whatever, as a matter of fact, … we may be here most of the night trying to find some conclusion."
The White House has threatened to veto the legislation and as of Thursday evening, only one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, was on The Hill’s whip list of lawmakers intending to vote for it.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, told reporters Wednesday that only a few Democrats would vote yes.
That means the GOP leadership cannot afford much more than 20 defections on the bill.
Eleven conservatives met with Cruz over a pizza dinner Wednesday evening.
The other attendees were Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Blackburn.
Mike Lillis contributed.
This post was updated at 10:32 p.m.