President Obama threatened Wednesday to veto the House’s border-spending bill, saying it doesn’t give him enough money, cancels important environmental protections and removes vital judicial checks for the illegal immigrant children surging into the U.S.
The threat, issued in an official statement of policy, puts Mr. Obama at odds with even some Democrats who say changes are needed to a 2008 law granting Central American children a long judicial process before they can be deported. Mr. Obama himself called for changes to the 2008 law earlier this month, but has since backed away under intense political pressure from immigrant rights groups.
“This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children which could result in their removal to life threatening situations in foreign countries,” the White House budget office said in its policy statement.
The House bill includes $659 million in emergency spending to house and care for the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children and families who will come across the border over the next two months. Republicans said they didn’t want to give Mr. Obama the full $4 billion he was seeking because it amounted to a blank check.
The bill also includes policy changes that would tweak the 2008 law to speed up deportations and would allow Border Patrol agents to pursue illegal immigrants without worry about environmental policies.
“The bill we have before us solves the problem in the short term,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The policy changes would only apply to new arrivals, not to the tens of thousands of children who have already jumped the border and been caught, processed and sent to live with relatives or sponsors in the U.S. Those cases can last as long as five years, giving the children a chance to establish a foothold in the U.S.
But even as GOP leaders prepared for a showdown vote Thursday, they were trying to fend off a rebellion within their own ranks.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and a longtime leader in opposing illegal immigration, said he wouldn’t support any bill unless it also canceled Mr. Obama’s policy granting tentative legal status to illegal immigrant young adults, the so-called “dreamers.”
If he can rally enough Republicans to his position, it could deprive the GOP of the votes needed to pass its bill.
“I don’t know the number, I’m getting emails in from members that say sign me up,” Mr. King told his colleagues as he testified to the House Rules Committee, which was setting the terms for Thursday’s debate.
Late Wednesday night, House GOP leaders announced they would schedule a vote on a stand-alone bill to prohibit Mr. Obama from expanding his dreamer policy to include anyone else.
The move was seen as a way to try to corral conservatives’ votes. While it isn’t as much as Mr. King was asking for, it could win over some other wavering lawmakers.
Senate Democratic leaders are facing their own rebellion against their bill, which would give Mr. Obama his $4 billion but wouldn’t make any of the policy changes that even some rank-and-file Democrats say are needed.
“It is important that we send the message that our borders are closed to those who enter illegally. It is time to say ‘enough is enough,’” said Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat. “We should make sure that the funds in this bill are being used to secure our borders and discourage others from coming here illegally.”
He and 62 fellow senators, including nearly a dozen Republicans, voted to overcome an early filibuster attempt Wednesday — but enough senators indicated they could withdraw their support later this week that the Obama-backed bill is in serious jeopardy