House Republican leaders Monday pulled a controversial border security bill from a pending vote, citing severe weather conditions in the Northeast and a short congressional work week – but opponents said it was yanked for sagging Republican support.
The bill, authored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, was scheduled for a Wednesday vote.
Republican leaders withdrew the bill and canceled all votes Monday as lawmakers faced difficulties getting to Washington because of the Northeastern snowstorm. The Senate met and conducted votes.
Pushing back Monday’s House votes, leadership officials said, further shortened an already truncated House work week. Lawmakers are scheduled to recess Wednesday so House Democrats can attend a retreat in Philadelphia the rest of the week.
The measure requires the Department of Homeland Security to gain “operational control” of the border within five years to prevent illegal crossings into the United States
It also calls for the deployment of new technology along the border, new fencing, and requires the Homeland Security Department to launch a biometric exit system at all entry points within five years.
“Chairman McCaul remains laser focused on getting this bill to the floor and passed,” Walter Zaykowski, a McCaul spokesman, said in an email. “He will continue to work with members and stakeholders to do so. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans this week.”
But Republicans, Democrats and outside groups that oppose the bill say dwindling support within Republican ranks, and not snowflakes, was the main reason it was pulled.
Several Republicans have complained that McCaul’s bill distracted from a bill the House passed earlier this month to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September.
The bill, which awaits Senate action, has amendments attached that would reverse several of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
“There was significant conservative opposition to moving this bill before Senate passage of our bill stopping the president’s lawless, unconstitutional amnesty,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “With the intervention of both bad weather and already 67 filed amendments, it was the right decision to pull back this bill.”
Huelskamp added: “This allows the focus to remain where it belongs – on Senate consideration of the DHS bill. We must check the president’s overreach on immigration before passing new laws for him to ignore.”
Other Republican lawmakers, including those who espouse securing the border before dealing with a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, have called the bill a weak measure that’s a potential stalking horse to amnesty for millions of people who are living in the country illegally.
“The most troubling aspect is this Trojan horse thing,” freshman Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said on “The John Fredericks Show,” a Virginia radio program. “If you pass a bill called ‘border security,’ then the other side is going to say, ‘Hey, look, we already did it, we passed border security, so now it’s time for Step Two, which is amnesty – let everyone in, legalize them, because now we have a secure border.”
Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration don’t like McCaul’s bill, either. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called it “unworkable” last week. But Democrats sat back Monday and enjoyed the Republican infighting over the measure.
“They can blame inclement weather all they want – but we all know it was the storm clouds over this bill and its murky prospects that are the real drivers,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Democrat. “Interestingly, even the most extreme right-wing elements of the House Republican conference, which the bill was written for, could not get on board with this legislation.”