WASHINGTON - House Republicans, scrambling to win conservative support for a bill addressing the immigration crisis on the border, have scheduled a companion vote on legislation to block President Barack Obama from extending deportation relief to any more immigrants here illegally.
The late-night maneuvering Wednesday came ahead of a planned vote Thursday on a $659 million bill to send resources to the border and to speed the return back home of unaccompanied Central American minors who've been arriving by the tens of thousands. Conservative support was lacking with time running short before lawmakers' annual August recess begins Friday.
To answer conservative desires to block Obama on immigration, GOP leadership agreed to a vote to do just that. After voting on the border bill the House will consider legislation preventing Obama from expanding an existing program that's granted work permits to more than 500,000 immigrants brought to this country illegally as kids and allowed them to stay here without threat of deportation.
White House officials have indicated plans to unilaterally expand that program, perhaps to millions more people, in the wake of the House's failure to act this year on a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. Republicans warn that would provoke a constitutional crisis and a few conservatives have said it would be grounds for impeachment.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, confirmed the new vote approach Wednesday night. It comes after outside conservative groups announced opposition to the House bill and tea party Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas summoned House conservatives to a meeting Wednesday evening to strategize against it.
The fast-moving developments would seem to ensure House passage of the border bill, yet did nothing to change the overall stalemate in Congress over the border crisis in South Texas. The White House issued a veto threat Wednesday against the House bill even as the Senate's much different measure cleared a procedural hurdle - likely just a temporary reprieve before its eventual defeat.
That left no apparent path for a compromise bill to reach Obama's desk before Congress' five-week recess, even as lawmakers in both parties said they wanted to act.
"My constituents back home don't understand why in the world we would leave without fixing this problem," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "If we don't do anything to deal with the causes or deal with a remedy for this growing humanitarian crisis, it's going to get worse."
Republicans called the Senate's $3.5 billion bill a blank check for Obama's failed policies and demanded policy changes opposed by Democrats to send the migrants back home more quickly. The bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Western wildfires and $225 million to help Israeli self-defense, but lawmakers were making plans to deal with the money for Israel separately.
Despite their opposition, some Senate Republicans voted in favor of moving the bill forward Wednesday, saying they wanted to open debate on the measure to be able to offer amendments.
Cornyn was among 11 Republicans who voted to proceed with the bill. Two red-state Democrats in tough re-election fights - Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana - voted "no."
The bill includes $2.7 billion for more immigration judges, detention facilities, enforcement measures and other steps to deal with the tens and thousands of youths who've been arriving in South Texas without their parents or visas to enter the U.S. It does not include legal changes to permit authorities to turn unaccompanied Central American youths around at the border without deportation hearings that existing law guarantees - a GOP demand that Democrats say would send the kids back to terrible conditions.
"They should have their day in court," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
The House bill leaves out the money for wildfires and Israel but includes the legal change to send migrant youths home quickly and would also dispatch National Guard troops to the border.
Although the White House has backed legal changes to deport the kids more quickly, a statement of administration policy said the House legislation "could make the situation worse, not better," by setting arbitrary timelines that could create backlogs and hurt due process.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Many are fleeing vicious gangs and are trying to reunite with family members, but they also are drawn by rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay.
The Homeland Security Department says overwhelmed border agencies will be running out of money in coming months, and Obama asked Congress to agree to provide $3.7 billion.
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