The Senate hoped to complete a few key tasks last night before the start of Congress’ five-week break: pass the bipartisan VA bill, approve funding for the Highway Trust Fund, and vote on an emergency measure to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border.
Two out of three ain’t bad?
With relative ease, the upper chamber did, in fact, pass the measures related to the VA and the Highway Trust Fund. But when it came time to vote on the Senate’s version of the border bill, the Republican minority blocked it – Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wanted an amendment prohibiting executive orders from President Obama; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said no, so the GOP refused to allow the legislation to advance.
As for the House, what happens now in the wake of yesterday’s fiasco? Their recess has apparently been delayed.
House Republicans are expected to pick up the effort again Friday morning, just as lawmakers prepare to leave Capitol Hill for a five-week recess without passing any funding relief for the southwestern border. Emergency funds are set to run out by the end of August after a flood of unaccompanied minors – some 57,000 have been apprehended at the border since October – strained immigration resources and facilities beyond capacity.
House GOP members will reportedly meet in about an hour on Capitol Hill to “discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday.”
In other words, Republican leaders are still looking for ways to push the bill even further to the right in order to placate rank-and-file GOP lawmakers. If the enticements fall short, members are reportedly prepared to work through the weekend.
At this point, you may be wondering about the point of these efforts. If so, you’re not alone.
The House needed to finish its work on time, but that obviously didn’t work out when Republicans once again betrayed their leadership and killed their own bill. But GOP lawmakers also don’t want to head back to their districts having failed miserably, so they’re apparently committed to working until they pass something – even if the Senate has already gone home, even if it’s an awful bill that wouldn’t address the problem, even if the measure has no chance of being signed into law, even if the legislative process is on hold until early September.
The point is to create a talking point – and nothing more. These efforts aren’t about substance or public policy; they’re about election-season rhetoric. What the GOP wants is to be able to say, “The Republican-led House passed a border bill and Democrats didn’t. So there.” This, presumably, will be followed by right-wing members of Congress sticking their tongues out.
It’s a reminder of the depths our contemporary Congress has reached.
Ironically, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had an alternative path: he could have crafted a conservative bill, picked up some Southern Democrats, passed the spending measure, and gone home. But the hapless GOP leadership didn’t want to rely on Dems, so Boehner and the new Republican leadership team kept moving further and further to the right, alienating possible Democratic allies, while discovering that right-wing lawmakers are very hard to please.
As we discussed yesterday, the resulting image is a helpless party, lacking leaders, direction, and purpose. House Republicans were desperate to prove they’re capable of being a governing party, and in the process, they’ve proven the opposite.