Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the Texas on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas.
John Moore/Getty

The Speaker vs. the Shadow Speaker on the border crisis

After President Obama unveiled a proposal to address the humanitarian crisis at the border nearly four weeks ago, House Republican leaders started from the position that they would pass his proposal. That didn’t last – rank-and-file GOP lawmakers soon made clear they would kill the White House plan.
 
This week, with Congress already eyeing the exits before a five-week break, House Republicans got around to unveiling a weak alternative that largely ignores the substantive issues.
 
But at least the House will pass something, right? Not necessarily – as of last night, GOP leaders didn’t have enough support from their own party to pass their own bill, so they’re working on new, far-right goodies to help encourage Republicans to support the bill.
In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants.
 
One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats.
 
On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents.
Just so we’re clear, this is the latest in a series of legislative fiascos for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has repeatedly brought bills to the floor assuming his members would follow his lead, only to discover that GOP House members have no qualms about rejecting their own party’s bills if they consider the measures insufficiently right-wing.
 
In this case, to make rank-and-file Republican lawmakers happy, the GOP leadership will hold a vote today in support of deportations of Dream Act kids, a top conservative priority. Indeed, Roll Call’s Steven Dennis noted that the only votes the House has held on immigration in this Congress have been measures to deport Dream Act kids – there have already been two, today will be the third.
 
And who’s behind this latest intra-party crisis? That would be the House Republicans’ Shadow Speaker: Ted Cruz.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), an influential tea party leader, will meet with a group of House Republicans Wednesday to urge them to oppose House Speaker John A. Boehner’s plan to stem the flow of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to several House members who plan to attend the 7 p.m. gathering at Cruz’s office.
 
Cruz’s huddle is the latest example of the combative freshman senator wading into House affairs and serving as an informal whip against the leadership’s immigration position. It is also a direct shot at Boehner’s effort to pass his legislative package, hours before the bill is scheduled to come to the House floor on Thursday.
We talked last week about the many, many instances in which House Republicans have privately huddled with the Texas senator at key moments – almost as if Cruz were a member of the House GOP leadership – and this latest scheme obviously belongs on the list.
 
The actual House Speaker had a plan: Boehner would pass a bad bill and then blame Democrats for not passing it. But for Cruz, that’s not good enough. Ironically, the right-wing senator wants what Dems want: to kill Boehner’s awful proposal. (Of course, Cruz and Democrats want the same thing for very different reasons.)
 
The talks will continue over the next several hours, and we don’t yet know who’ll prevail: the Speaker (Boehner) or the Shadow Speaker (Cruz). If the latter trumps the former, Congress will leave town tonight with the House having done nothing to address the crisis.
 
And while that would presumably offer Democrats new reasons to mock the House majority as being incapable of governing, let’s not forget there are real-world consequences of congressional failure. The L.A. Times reported late yesterday:
With the expected failure of Congress to agree Thursday on emergency funds to cope with the border crisis, the Obama administration is shifting an additional $94 million from other government programs and accounts – some far removed from the immigration debate – to meet the swelling costs of caring for the children through the summer, according to congressional aides. […]
 
[B]order agencies say their existing budgets – sapped by added costs from overtime, detention and transportation for the children, more than 57,000 of whom have arrived since October — will start running dry before lawmakers get back in September.
 
Administration officials warn that the price of congressional inaction will be steep, estimating the cost of caring for each immigrant youth runs between $250 and $1,000 a day. “Scary,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said about the agencies’ budget outlook.
For Cruz, this means he has leverage – if Republicans hold out long enough, he assumes, Democrats will give in and agree to deport Dream Act kids in exchange for funding. It’s a pipe dream, but for now, it’s the operating principle for Cruz and his allies – no mass Dream Act deportations, no bill.
 
Watch this space.
 

Dream Act, Immigration Policy, John Boehner and Ted Cruz

The Speaker vs. the Shadow Speaker on the border crisis