WASHINGTON — In what has become a familiar problem for House Republicans, leaders scrapped a planned vote Thursday afternoon on controversial immigration legislation after it became clear they did not have the support of their own party to pass it.
In a joint statement, GOP leaders said they would continue to work toward a solution to the flood of unaccompanied children detained at the U.S./Mexico border and put the onus on President Obama to act on his own.
"There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries," read the statement.
The decision to reverse course on a $659 million emergency spending bill to address the surge of undocumented minors was an embarrassing end to the legislative agenda before the month-long August recess. The GOP bill would have also dispatched National Guard troops to the border and changed a 2008 law to make it easier to return children home to Central America.
GOP leaders went to great lengths to secure passage by allowing a separate vote on a measure that would block Obama from any further executive action to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The concession was believed to be necessary to get enough conservative Republicans to vote for the border funding bill because House Democrats broadly opposed it. The measure mirrored a proposal supported by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had met with House Republicans privately to encourage them to support it.
The votes may have been moot, as neither piece of legislation had a chance of passage because Senate Democrats opposed them and the White House had issued a veto threat. Senate Democrats are moving forward with a competing measure that supplies $2.7 billion in emergency border funding with no change in immigration policies.
The House was supposed to go into a month-long recess Thursday but House Republicans said they would reconvene Friday to see if a deal can be worked out.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, said Thursday "It's beyond belief that Congress is abandoning its post while our border crisis continues to create humanitarian suffering, and criminal aliens still represent a clear threat to our citizens and our nation. . . . Congress and the President have a duty to address our border security issues without further delay. Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed."
The Senate's $3.5 billion package also includes emergency money for wildfires raging in the Western U.S. and for Israel's missile defense system.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had warned Congress that key agencies will begin to run out of money by mid-August if Congress did not send additional funds. However, lawmakers said the agencies can shift money within their accounts to cover the shortfall until Congress returns in September to try again at reaching a deal.
Immigration advocates blamed Thursday's failure to reach a deal on House Republicans for their efforts to tack on broad policy changes to the emergency funding request. They said the House's insistence on ending the White House program to stop deportations of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children and to change the 2008 law doomed what should have been an easy funding request to help overworked Border Patrol agents and Health and Human Services officials trying to find housing for the children.
"It's a sad day," said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "This is a defining moment in the national debate."
Republicans countered that it is not their responsibility to clean up Obama's self-made mess. House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said they were trying to make some changes in U.S. law and to Obama's deportation policies to help stem the flow of children across the border. But, "It is ultimately up to President Obama to end this crisis by reversing his policies that created it." Republicans contend that Obama's immigration policies have left Central American families with the impression that if their children can get to the U.S., they can stay.