House Republicans made good on a major campaign promise this week by passing a border security crackdown, given the designation of HR 2 to symbolize its importance, which boosts border technology and funding, restarts construction of the border wall, adds new restrictions on asylum seekers and more. .
But they did so only after months of public jabs, late-stage delays and last-minute changes.
“He also saw the disagreements, some of them publicly, where members have strong views on different approaches,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.). “And frankly, that’s why Congress has failed to pass a strong border security bill over the years, even when Donald Trump was president.”
Not much has been simple for the House’s slim Republican majority this year, even past their top priorities. Thursday’s passage of the Border Security Act, which is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, adds to a pattern in which House Republicans outwit public infighting and sometimes surprise critics, from the protracted saga to elect President Kevin McCarthy (R-California) to a recent late-night brawl over a GOP debt ceiling bill.
Some of those involved in pushing the bill to the finish line say the process really began last year, when getting nearly all Texas House Republicans to endorse a border framework set the stage for nearly The entire conference, except for two Republicans, will vote for HR2 on the floor.
“It was a core feature in getting to where we needed to go to get this done, without a doubt,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), insisting that the entire conference agreed to 95 percent of what was in the final bill.
Representative Tony Gonzales, Republican of Texas, at the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Hershel W. “Woody” Williams lies in honor at the U.S. Capitol, July 14, 2022, in Washington . (Photo by Tom Williams/Pool via AP, File)
Scalise announced at the start of the session that the GOP would expedite a bill by Roy, HR 29, ordering the government to deny entry to most undocumented immigrants unless it has the ability to detain them or place them in a program where they are I return to Mexico.
But that bill never made it to the floor in the face of strong opposition, even as leaders began to incorporate it into the larger Republican package.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, the only Texas Republican not to sign the Texas border plan, has waged a public war against the bill, calling it “anti-Christian” and “anti-immigrant” and vowing that the largest Republican border bill will fail. on the floor if Roy’s bill was included. At one point, he even threatened to vote against the party’s debt ceiling bill.
The two spent much of April discussing the bill publicly, but by the time the bill was unveiled later that month, some of the stronger language regarding immigrant entry had been tweaked in committee, and for Gonzales, that was a victory.
“I give a lot of credit to the Hispanic Conference for sticking together,” Gonzales said. “The strategy of the leadership has been to try to put people on an island. And it was very clear that I was not an island. I was an iceberg, and I think there were many other members below me.”
In the end, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who co-chairs the Republican Party’s Congressional Hispanic Conference with Gonzales, was the main sponsor of HR 2.
Roy noted, however, that much of his bill was included in the final legislation. It didn’t matter that his name wasn’t on the final product, he said.
“I only share that not to defend the [H.R. 29] bill – I don’t give a shit. I can’t overstate how much I don’t give a shit. What I don’t give a shit about is politics. And at the end of the day, we got the policy that we wanted that we had put forward in HR 29,” Roy said.
Last minute changes and delays
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) leaves a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
When members of the Hispanic Conference endorsed the bill, agriculture-focused moderates ran into obstacles.
Members such as Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) worried about the impact of a provision that requires employers to use E-Verify, the government system that checks whether a person is authorized to work in the US, you would have to be in the agricultural industry.
For those members, it was important that any changes to E-Verify be accompanied by reforms to the H-2A temporary farm worker visa program, changes that were not in the bill. Newhouse has long worked on that issue with his Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
Those members reached an agreement with leadership to amend the bill in the House Rules Committee, the last stop before the House floor, with language directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider the adverse impacts of require E-Verify before implementing.
But the Rules Committee approved the bill after midnight without any changes, surprising lawmakers. People familiar with the heist said hardline Conservative members did not want to amend the bill at such a late stage.
A bigger problem was brewing on the other ideological side of the conference.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who had said the bill did not do enough to combat drug cartels, sounded the alarm that many Republicans disagreed with the bill over a section that leads a study on whether drug cartels should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) began receiving text messages about people concerned about that foreign terrorist organization language just days before the vote, with members saying the move to a “not tipped” on the bill.
What started as a problem for a handful of people quickly grew to a group of about 40 members as members messaged each other, Emmer said.
“It probably took half an hour, 45 minutes to get everyone to stick to what was really bothering them,” Emmer said. He called the late negotiations the bill a “live exercise stage, much like the debt ceiling” a few weeks ago.
The fact of the matter, Emmer said, was that the members did not want to give Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas more authority, even for a study.
The solution to both the E-Verify problem and the cartel problem came in a minimal amendment.
Instead of DHS leading the charge, Congress would commission a report evaluating a national security strategy for the US regarding the cartels. Crenshaw also announced Friday that McCarthy has assigned him to lead a task force that will focus on how to combat drug cartels, after meeting with the Speaker to discuss the issue at length.
The new “sense of Congress” language also dictated that, in enacting the E-Verify requirement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must ensure that “any adverse impacts on agricultural workforce operations and the nation’s food security.
Newhouse spoke in the House of Representatives ahead of the bill’s passage Thursday to seek commitment from leaders that work will continue to reform H2-A farmworker visas. Scalise on the floor promised that leadership will continue to work with him “to address the labor needs of our agricultural industry.”
Some moderates were also doing their own consideration on E-Verify. They realized that the bill has virtually no chance of becoming law, and voting against a border security measure would be politically painful.
Emmer called the bill’s passage “nothing short of historic from a legislative perspective” as it garnered support from both the most moderate members and the most conservative members.
“I didn’t feel that unquote drama,” Emmer said. “The drama for me is, you know, going into the room and trying to figure out if you got the votes. We knew what each vote was.”
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