On a day that was supposed to signal new leadership in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner was plagued with the same old GOP infighting Thursday when he was forced to abruptly cancel a vote to approve $659 million in emergency funding for the border crisis because conservatives – spurred on by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz -- rallied against it.
House leaders were resigned to the outcome, but other Republicans in the House majority -- wary of leaving town without taking any action -- forced an emergency meeting to reconsider the measure. A short time later, leaders announced that the House would remain in session on Friday to tweak the bill and try again, forcing lawmakers who had expected to begin their summer break to cancel plans to leave town.
Boehner was always expected to have trouble overcoming objections of hard-line House Republicans -- but Cruz’s surprise intervention made his job almost impossible.
The drama presented an immediate challenge to new GOP House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who took over the post on Thursday. Outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor bid farewell to his colleagues in a slightly sentimental floor speech after losing his primary election in June. Boehner was spotted dabbing away tears.
But behind the scenes, it was Cruz, the Texas conservative with presidential aspirations, who appeared to be pulling the strings.
Cruz had been steadily stirring up opposition to the House GOP plan to approve the $659 million, far less than the $3.7 billion sought by the White House and the $2.7 billion proposed by Senate Democrats to deal with the 57,000 unaccompanied youths who have been apprehended at the Southwest border since Oct. 1.
Senate Democrats also ran into problems passing their version of the bill, with two Democrats joining Republicans on Thursday to prevent the measure’s advance. Although the Senate will be in session Friday too, no votes are scheduled. No matter what happens in the House, Congress is not expected to find agreement and send any legislation to President Obama before leaving for a five-week break.
Cruz’s handiwork lighted up the telephone lines in the Capitol after an appearance on a tea party webinar. He further stoked opposition among House Republicans when he met with them privately over pizza on the eve of Thursday’s vote.
As the afternoon unfolded, it became clear that House GOP leaders did not have enough support to pass the bill, and they abruptly canceled the vote.
House GOP leaders bristled at Cruz’s interference on their turf. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said Cruz had “hijacked” the Republican Party. Democrats jokingly referred to the senator as “Speaker Cruz.”
As lawmakers prepared to head home, Boehner – who just one day earlier had persuaded the House GOP to approve a lawsuit against Obama, whom they accuse of executive overreach – tried to defend the House’s inaction by suggesting that the president should solve the border crisis without Congress by taking steps on his own.
“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,” Boehner said. The comments drew widespread ridicule from Democrats, who noted that Boehner appeared to be asking Obama to take exactly the kind of executive action he has previously criticized.
But the more moderate wing of House Republicans fought back, saying they were loath to leave the matter to the president and worried about facing constituents back home without having acted. A hastily called meeting of the House GOP stretched for 90 minutes behind closed doors in the Capitol basement.
“We have an obligation to the American people to fix this,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) as he emerged from the meeting. “We’re going to stay.”
Airplane tickets were canceled. Trips abroad were put on hold. One congressman said he may miss his son’s weekend wedding.
Boehner warned members that “we’re not even close” to having enough votes, according to those familiar with the private meeting. But GOP leaders agreed to consider adjustments to the bill and try again on Friday.
Before the chaos on the House floor, Boehner had succumbed to pressure to include a Cruz-inspired measure that would defund the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- which has given 500,000 young immigrants legal status for meeting requirements that they remain in college or join the military.
Cruz had offered similar legislation in the Senate, but could not get a vote in that chamber. With a push from Cruz, the effort shifted to the House, where the bill also would have blocked any future legalization programs Obama has promised to deliver this year.
That’s not the message Republicans want to send to Latino voters before breaking for midterm election campaigning. But Boehner agreed to allow a vote on the Cruz-inspired measure, calculating that it was more important to show the House taking action and worry about political fallout later.
“The way Republicans have demonized the kids,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), “it’s going to come back and bite them.”
Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.
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