House delays summer recess for possible border bill vote

Last Updated Jul 31, 2014 8:15 PM EDT

After a last-minute search for ways to address the flood of unaccompanied immigrant children coming across the southern border, the House Republican leadership was forced to cancel a vote on an emergency funding bill that would allocate $659 million to bolster the cash-strapped agencies dealing with the crisis.

Citing "intense concern within our conference...about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws," Republican leaders instead said the president should focus on steps he can take without the need for congressional access to address the crisis. Those suggestions include sending a strong message that those who enter illegally will be deported and stopping the practice of so-called "prosecutorial discretion" in prioritizing deportations.

That means the House is on the verge of leaving town for a five-week summer recess without passing any immigration-related legislation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is scheduled to run out of funds in mid-August, according to the Department of Homeland Security, with Customs and Border Patrol meeting the same fate in mid-September.

After the vote was cancelled, House Republican leaders announced they'd delay their D.C. departure until Friday, in one last-ditch effort to drum up enough votes to pass the bill.

The House GOP leadership Thursday also cancelled a planned vote on a bill that would have barred President Obama from continuing or expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which suspends the threat of deportation for certain immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The second bill was largely seen as a way to bolster conservative support for the funding measure.

It's already certain that both the House and Senate will leave town without sending a bill to President Obama. The$659 million House measure was far smaller than a $2.73 billion Democratic Senate proposal that died late Thursday in a procedural vote, which in turn is less than the $3.7 billion the White House is seeking.

At first, the biggest divide between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate was over whether to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law that makes it more difficult to deport Central American children than those from Mexico. A surge in gang violence has driven tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala north through Mexico and to the United States. Democrats firmly opposed the change, while Republicans said it was necessary to speed up deportations and deter more children from making the dangerous journey.

That difference would have been hard enough to overcome. But to make matters even more complicated, the DACA vote was added to the schedule of votes Thursday, infuriating the White House and House Democrats.

The White House had already promised to veto the House's emergency funding bill, calling it "patchwork legislation that will only put more arbitrary and unrealistic demands on an already broken system" in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The news about the DACA vote only added fuel to their fire.

"It is extraordinary that the House of Representatives, after failing for more than a year to reform our broken immigration reform system, would vote to restrict a law enforcement tool that the Department of Homeland Security uses to focus resources on key enforcement priorities like public safety and border security, and provide temporary relief from deportation for people who are low priorities for removal," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Thursday morning. "The House is instead driving an approach that is about rounding up and deporting 11 million people, separating families, and undermining DHS' ability to secure the border."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., implied that the move was merely a way for the Republican leadership to rally enough support for the original border funding bill.

"They're saying to their members, unless you vote for this terrible bill, even though you don't think its terrible enough, you're not going to get a chance to tie the president's hands when it comes to him using his discretion and executive authority to improve the situation," Pelosi said.

The move to bar future funding for DACA was at least partially inspired by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had introduced a similar measure that had no chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But Cruz met with the House's most conservative lawmakers Wednesday night, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who wrote the original version of the bill her colleagues will vote on.

The House leadership viewed such a move as necessary, particularly in light of the news that the president is reportedly considering a range of executive actions he could undertake to provide deportation relief for anywhere from 550,000 to 4.4 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

"Such action would create an even greater incentive for more illegal crossings and make the crisis on our border even worse. That would be a grave mistake," Boehner told reporters Thursday. "If the president takes this action he'll be sealing the deal on his legacy of lawlessness."

Boehner also reiterated that he would resist any attempts by Senate Democrats to attach the comprehensive immigration reform package they passed last June to the House's border funding bill, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested earlier this week.

Calling the plan a "nutso scheme," Boehner added, for emphasis, "The House will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion, including in this border bill. Nor will we accept any attempt to add other immigration reform issues or anything like it including the DREAM Act to the House's border bill. Any attempt to exploit this crisis and these kids by adding such measures will run into a brick wall in the people's House."

CBS News' Alicia Budich contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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