House Republicans talk about border security all the time.
‘The border’s wide open,’ said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., on Fox.
‘We expect massive waves of people to come,’ said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn.
‘There’s drug trafficking,’ said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Tex.
‘Unaccompanied children!’ thundered Rep. Nathaniel Moran, R-Tex., on Fox.
But doing something about the border proved elusive for the House Republican majority for months. Perhaps until now. Republicans aim to pass a bill this week.
This accomplishes two goals for the GOP. The bill coincides with the end of Title 42 and an expected surge at the border. But Republicans also campaigned on border security during the midterm elections.
‘I will promise you this if we get the majority, we will secure this border,’ promised House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last September as the GOP rolled out its policy agenda.
But consensus evaded Republicans on the issue. They hoped to pass a border security package over the winter but plowed into trouble. The GOP lacked the votes with its narrow majority.
‘We’ve only been in power for just four months,’ protested House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., on Fox. ‘It’s not about a timeframe.’
But the ‘timeframe’ arrived this week as the pandemic-era Title 42 policy at the border expires. That’s why the GOP is angling for passage of the bill.
Like with the debt ceiling bill last month, McCarthy hoped to make the package a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition – not open to amendments or changes. But that goal found reality Tuesday night as the House Rules Committee prepped the border bill for debate.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., indicated early in the week he was a nay. On Twitter, Massie characterized the inclusion of E-Verify (a program to document the eligibility status of workers in the U.S.) in the GOP bill as ‘a huge mistake.’ He argued that the Biden administration could use E-Verify as ‘the ultimate on/off switch for EMPLOYMENT.’
Some members also opposed a plan to grant the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to designate cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The House Rules Committee met until the early hours of Wednesday morning to establish the playing field to consider the bill. But Republicans knew they had to alter the bill to appease potential no votes.
The House can’t bring an actual bill to the floor unless it irons out the ‘rule’ for debate on the issue.
‘I wouldn’t bet against McCarthy and our Whip team. It will be close,’ said one senior Republican with ties to the leadership.
Fox is told the ending of Title 42 alone could persuade some reluctant GOPers to vote yes even if they have reservations about the bill.
‘Every vote in the House is like the Perils of Pauline,’ said one source about the tight vote margins the GOP must navigate in the House. ‘But somehow she always seems to avoid being run over by the train.’
That’s likely the scenario on most big votes in the House for this Congress.
Again, this will be about the math.
Democrats have struggled to get all of their Members to the floor on other major votes of late. But if all Democrats are present and voting (213), that means Republicans can only lose four on their side. Repeated Democratic absences on big votes has helped Republicans advance bills with narrow margins. Democrats could make the GOP sweat if they get everyone to the floor.
However, GOP horse-trading could yield the votes to pass the bill.
McCarthy said two weeks ago that the debt ceiling bill was ‘closed.’ Yet McCarthy opened the bill back up in the dead of night with changes in order to court a coalition of conservatives and midwestern Republicans who were ‘noes’ on the bill for different reasons. Some Republicans viewed that precedent as an opportunity to extract concessions from McCarthy. Not budging would cause problems with approving the measure.
A failure to pass a border security package would be a blow to the House GOP – especially since this was a primary part of the Republican agenda.
Democrats won’t help on this bill – much like they didn’t assist House Republicans with their debt ceiling package in April.
‘Can you tell me what the final construct of the border bill really is?’ asked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. ‘In the dark of night, they made more changes. I haven’t seen every change they have made to this bill.’
Other Democrats argued the GOP bill would make things worse.
‘It just kind of shows the failure of Title 42,’ said Senate Majority Whip and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. ‘Their bill provides no new legal pathways for entry into this country, erases nearly all humanitarian protection for families seeking asylum and makes the situation at the border even worse.’
Republicans believe that the Biden Administration’s handling of the border is a winning issue for them. They’re happy to underscore problems with the expiration of Title 42.
‘It is going to be an invasion like we have never seen in the history of this country,’ said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Barrasso then called Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ‘malicious’ and accused him of lying about the border.
‘With the open border system we have, the drug cartels are taking advantage of it,’ said Tennessee Rep. Mark Green on Fox.
‘The cartels are doing the trafficking,’ said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., ‘They are making thousands of dollars on every child they bring into the country through this horrific and dangerous process.’
‘We are in a crisis,’ said Rep. Erin Houchin, R-Ind.
The onus is on House Republicans. They campaigned on border security. Their border security bill won’t make it through the Senate let alone hit President Biden’s desk. But this is the GOP’s issue.
Passage of the bill would be a big win for the party.
Otherwise, they have a lot to talk about.