A conservative rebellion forced House leaders to pull their border bill from consideration on Thursday, leaving the GOP in disarray and putting pressure on President Obama to try to handle the situation without any extra money or powers from Congress.
Republican leaders in the House vowed to "continue" working on the crisis, and said it was "possible" they could still vote later Thursday, but the prospects appeared dim. Unless they come up with a solution in a few hours, they will go home for a five-week summer vacation leaving Mr. Obama to have to figure solutions out on his own.
"This situation shows the intense concern within our conference — and among the American people — about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws," the GOP leaders said in a joint statement. "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 bill had included only a fifth of the money Mr. Obama requested, and had included a number of changes to existing law that would have made it easier to deport illegal immigrant children surging across the border. And under pressure, GOP leaders even scheduled a vote on a bill to freeze the president's non-deportation policy for young adults.
But House conservatives, pushed by high-profile Sens. Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz, said the measures didn't go far enough in rolling back Mr. Obama's previous non-deportation policies such as his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and forcing deportation of more illegal immigrants.
At root, the conservatives said no matter what they passed, they didn't trust Mr. Obama to follow through, and feared that halting DACA in place would actually be seen as congressional approval of the policy.
"While this new bill may 'neuter' DACA moving forward as the sponsor claims, the bill will be twisted and used by the president—as well as the attorney general, an army of lawyers, and countless pundits—to say this DACA fix bill actually resulted in Congressional approval (i.e., statutory enactment) of DACA from June 15, 2012 until yesterday July 30, 2014," Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican, wrote in a letter to colleagues.
The bill's failure is an ignominious start to the tenure of new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, who both ascended the ladder this week with Rep. Eric Cantor officially stepping down from the leader's post.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are having trouble with their own border bill, a $4 billion measure that provides Mr. Obama with ample funding to house and care for the children and families, but does not make any of the policy changes Republicans and even some Democrats say are necessary to begin stemming the flow.
As of Thursday afternoon, no votes had been scheduled in the Senate.
What began as a limited debate over the tens of thousands of Central American children and families crossing the border turned into a full-blown debate over immigration policy and what level of amnesty there should be for current illegal immigrants.
House conservatives had refused to back any bill that didn't roll back all of Mr. Obama's unilateral 2012 policies granting tentative legal status to illegal immigrants — policies they blame for the surge of illegal immigrants this year.
Democrats countered that the newcomers wouldn't be eligible for legal status under Mr. Obama's existing orders, and said the focus should be on the humanitarian situation facing the children back home in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, rather than on speeding up deportations in the U.S.
Democrats complained that the GOP bill not only rolled back due process protections for illegal immigrants, but said it also shortchanged Mr. Obama the funds he needs to provide lawyers, housing and medical care for them.
"The American people are fair-minded; they are wise; they are practical; they want to help but they want to do so in a way that is fair to everyone involved," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "They want to feed the children. There are not enough resources here to do that on the humanitarian side."
With no action coming out of Congress, Mr. Obama will be left to grapple with the flow on his own by shifting money around within his Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments.
He may also have to use even more unilateral action to try to speed up some deportations — a power the White House has said it may have, but which it has been reluctant to tap.
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