WASHINGTON - House Republicans leaders are struggling to find support for a plan addressing child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as some members blame Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for helping scuttle a vote on it Thursday.
Republicans met privately in the afternoon and will confer again Friday morning, said Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. Congress had intended to leave Washington Thursday for a five-week break.
“We’ll have the votes tomorrow,” although leaders don’t have enough votes now, said Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama as he left the party meeting.
Even if the House manages to pass its bill, Congress is poised to leave Washington for the August break without enacting a plan to address the border crisis. The Senate Wednesday advanced a $2.7 billion plan, still less than the $3.7 billion President Barack Obama requested.
Republicans and Democrats also disagree about Republicans’ bid to change a law to speed the deportation of children at the border.
House Republican leaders had repeatedly adjusted the $659 million border proposal in an effort to gain support from lawmakers who, like Cruz of Texas, are aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement.
“We’ve got a caucus of widely disparate views, and it never really gelled for 218 on our side,” the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House, said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican.
Cruz this week was urging party members in the House to oppose the bill, H.R. 5230. Late Wednesday he met with about a dozen House Republicans over pizza and Dr. Pepper to discuss strategy about the proposal.
“Ted Cruz and a handful of Republicans have hijacked the party,” said Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican.
“Speaker Cruz is deciding the agenda,” said Rep. Joe Garcia, a Florida Democrat.
Cruz been an influential voice among House Republicans, urging them to oppose Obamacare at every turn. His encouragement to withhold support for government spending unless the president’s health-care law was defunded led to the partial government shutdown in October.
The blowup over the border bill occurred as House Speaker John Boehner’s new leadership team is taking control following the defeat of departing Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a Tea Party-backed candidate in a Virginia primary vote.
“We are going to stay until we get it done,” Rep. Darrell Issa of California told reporters after the meeting. “There were a number of people who had indicated no but they would now vote yes.”
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said, though, that members of his party were already leaving Washington.
Texas Republican Kay Granger said she was “very disappointed” the bill her border working group helped write was pulled from the floor. The reason was “no votes,” she told reporters.
With the House in disarray, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that Senate Democrats would press forward with an effort to pass their $2.7 billion spending bill later Thursday.
“Obviously we’ll try and pass ours,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat, adding that he wasn’t surprised Boehner couldn’t lock down the votes for the House bill. “It’s not the first time.”
Thursday’s move in the House was similar to another failed attempt by Boehner to corral votes from his members. In December 2012 he canceled a vote on his proposal to extend expiring tax breaks for people making up to $1 million annually. That ultimately led to a fiscal compromise including a tax increase for individuals making more than $400,000 a year.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in an interview, criticized Republicans for stripping down their bill repeatedly to appeal to holdout Tea Party members.
“It wasn’t even bad enough for them,” said Pelosi of California.
The border vote would be a tough one for some Tea Party Republicans because it combines government spending with the politically difficult issue of immigration. In the past few years, Boehner has had to rely on Democratic support to help pass some measures, including a debt-limit increase and a farm bill.
Boehner told reporters Tuesday that leaders had “a little more work to do” to gain support for the border bill.
Late Wednesday, Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote on a measure — sought by Cruz and other party members — to block Obama from expanding a 2012 executive order giving certain undocumented children relief from immigration proceedings.
That agreement “cuts both ways” by picking up certain Republicans and losing others, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican.
About 57,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border from Oct. 1, 2013, through June 15, double the total from the same time a year earlier. Most of the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a Michigan Republican, said regarding the leaders’ plan, “I don’t really think it secures the border.”
“I’m not really interested in supporting it because I don’t think it does anything,” Bentivolio said.
The White House seized on the House leadership’s failure to get a vote and used it to justify Obama’s plan to use executive actions on the border issue.
“By pulling their own bill, the House GOP once again proves why the president must act on his own to solve problems,” senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer posted on Twitter.
Pfeiffer told reporters last week that the humanitarian crisis on the border combined with a deadlock in Congress give Obama “broad permission to take what executive action we can to try to deal with the broken immigration system.”
Democratic officials and immigration advocates have said Obama is considering using his executive authority to let millions of undocumented immigrants obtain work permits that would allow them to stay in the U.S. legally. Obama probably will act before the November midterm congressional elections.