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House passes $694 million border bill

House Republicans managed to pass a revised border funding package Friday after GOP leaders delayed their August recess and spent the day scrambling.
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after a House Republican Conference meeting August 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after a House Republican Conference meeting August 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

House Republicans managed to pass a revised border funding package Friday after GOP leaders delayed their August recess and spent the day scrambling to draw enough support to green-light a largely symbolic bill to cope with the flood of unaccompanied minors streaming into the United States.

In a 223-189 vote, lawmakers approved an updated bill providing $694 million in emergency funding relief after just the day before, party leaders were forced to pull the legislation when it became clear they did not have enough votes. Hours later, the House passed a bill 216-192, largely along party lines, to prohibit President Obama's ability to defer action on immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

Still, any legislation to address the border crisis stands no chance of making it to President Barack Obama’s desk before lawmakers leave town for a five-week recess after Senate Republicans successfully blocked a larger $2.7 billion emergency funding package that had only cleared a procedural hurdle earlier in the week.

"The legislation put forward tonight by House Republicans does not responsibly address the problem of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border," the White House said in a statement issued immediately after the vote, "and could result in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of DREAMers, young people who were brought to this country as children and are Americans in every way but on paper."

Unsurprisingly, House Speaker John Boehner feels differently. "The House has just passed a responsible bill to address the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. It will help secure our border and ensure the safe and swift return of these children to their home countries," the Ohio Republican said in a statement. "If President Obama needs these resources, he will urge Senate Democrats to put politics aside, come back to work, and approve our bill. There are also steps the president can take to address this crisis within the law, and without further legislative action. Every day the president and his party fail to act is another day this crisis continues."

President Obama on Friday chided Republicans for their failed legislative efforts and said he would consider his options on taking executive action to enhance funding while lawmakers are away on recess.

“They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem. This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today,” Obama said from the White House Friday at a press conference. “While they’re out on vacation I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge, with or without Congress.”

Tensions from within the Republican Party swelled Thursday after far-right factions remained concerned that the funding bill was too expensive and didn’t include enough to bolster border security. House Republicans scrapped the initial vote to avoid an embarrassing defeat when they fell below the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation.

In an effort to appease conservative opposition, party leaders included the second vote to undercut future changes to Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which many Republicans have blamed for the influx of more than 57,000 migrant children apprehended at the border since October. The supplemental bill bars President Obama from expanding deportation protection to a greater number of undocumented immigrants, and not just those brought to the United States as children. The new version of the House bill also adds $35 million for states that dispatch National Guard service members to the border, and tighten laws to speed up deportations of children.

The last-ditch effort was an early test for the freshly-minted GOP leadership. Conservative support for the border package began to crumble Thursday, just hours after Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor made his farewell as majority leader and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy stepped in to take his place. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise will now serve as majority whip.

After pulling the plug on the bill, House Speaker John Boehner, along with Reps. McCarthy, Scalise and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said it was up to Obama to take executive action to fund the border crisis without waiting for congressional approval. That statement came in stark contrast to events just one day earlier, when House Republicans voted to sue the president for allegedly overstepping his legal authority through executive action.

“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries,” the House GOP leaders said in a statement.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned that funds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement could run dry by mid-August, leaving Border Patrol short on funding by mid-September.

Congress has been grappling for weeks with solutions to deal with the unaccompanied minors immigrating to the U.S., primarily from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Both congressional bills allocated funds far below Obama’s request of $3.7 billion as tensions grew over whether Congress should make changes to a 2008 human trafficking bill in order to expedite deportation proceedings for the children.