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Facing Conservative Opposition, House Republicans Nix Border Bill Vote


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Audie Cornish. For weeks news headlines have been dominated with the news that tens of thousands of children and teens have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border for months. Their overwhelming detention facilities and immigration courts.

SHAPIRO: Congress has been wrestling with an emergency funding request from the White House to deal with the swelling humanitarian crisis. But today, on its last scheduled day before a five-week recess, the House found itself unable to pass even a pared-down version of that request.

CORNISH: So no summer vacation just yet. Joining us now to talk about the breakdown in the House is NPR senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving. And Ron, what exactly was the House supposed to vote on today?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Audie, until just a few hours ago, the House had been poised to approve a $659 million funding request that emerged from the chamber's own committee process. Now, the president asked for more than five times that much to deal with the build up at the border and also a couple of other emergency items having to do with wildfires in the West and helping Israel deal with rocket attacks.

SHAPIRO: That's how it was supposed to go down, but that's not what happened.

ELVING: No, the Republican majority's leaders thought they had the votes for this whittled-down version of the bill, but they discovered earlier this afternoon they did not have the 218 needed for a majority so they pulled the bill. And then they got a lot of objection to that from some of their members who didn't feel they could go home without doing something about this very highly visible situation at the border, and so they went into a closed-door meeting. That lasted for a little less than two hours, and when it broke up the leaders said they were packing it in for the night. They'll try again tomorrow, and all those plane tickets the members had will have to be changed. You can hear a little bit of how the House reacted to that right here.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Will the - will the...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The House will be in order.

CORNISH: Yikes - with friends like these. So Ron, what about the Democrats? I mean weren't they willing to help out on passing this?

ELVING: No, they weren't. They are holding out for a bigger bill in terms of spending - something closer to what the White House wanted. And they also don't like what the Republicans have been adding to the bill against the wishes of the White House. Conservative Republicans have insisted that the bill have provisions to dismantle some of that 2008 law that allowed for these extensive hearings when minors, children, teens show up at the border on their own. And they want to expedite the return of some of these arriving young people who are applying for status as refugees.

SHAPIRO: OK, so you're saying Republicans in the House might've been willing to allow some money for facilities and processing officials and things like that, but they also wanted to change some of the policies involved.

ELVING: That's right. And beyond that, they have a lot of concern about this border issue - this border bill being used to force a larger vote in Congress on a much more comprehensive overhaul of the whole immigration system. They have not wanted to have a vote on the bill that the Senate approved last year with some Republican support in that chamber. But over in the House side, the House Republicans have not been willing to have a vote on that. And this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada, said he might just like to put that whole Senate-passed bill on top of this emergency funding measure this week and force the House to deal with that.

SHAPIRO: Can he force the House to deal with it?

ELVING: Not without some Republican help in the Senate, no. And several Republicans who had been helpful on the bill the past immediately said they were not going along with that. But that didn't stop the chatter about it in the House, and one Republican senator, freshman Ted Cruz of Texas, had already been meeting with some of his like-minded House Republicans to talk about resisting any kind of bill on this issue which he said would amount to, quote, "Obama amnesty."

CORNISH: Right. Ron, I mean there's been so much talk of the President using his executive powers to benefit people in the country now without legal status. I mean aren't there a lot of people now urging him to do that?

ELVING: Yes, there's been pressure from the legalization side as well. This administration has been very active in the last several years in deporting people who lack legal status and activists have been protesting that with a great deal of vigor.

CORNISH: That's NPR's senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.