It was supposed to be Kevin Yoder’s job to help broker the deal that would break the deadlock over the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. Instead, he’s suddenly out of the loop and charging that even a 5-year-old could resolve the dispute.
The Kansas Republican, defeated last month for re-election after receiving the full-throated support of President Donald Trump, told McClatchy in a strikingly candid interview Wednesday that the issue has “has been kicked upstairs” to Trump and Congress’ Democratic leaders.
“Well, you saw the live feed of that yesterday,” Yoder said, referencing the meeting where Trump threatened to shut down the government if Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is poised to take over as House speaker, do not acquiesce to his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.
House leaders were considering a vote on that plan, but so far, Trump and Democrats were making little progress on finding common ground.
“We’re at $5 billion. The Senate’s at $1.6 billion. This really isn’t that difficult,” Yoder said. “My five-year-old could probably sort this out if I write this out for her pretty clear: One’s at two and one’s at five. She can pick a number in between there and move on down the road.”
Yoder chairs the House appropriations homeland security subcommittee, tasked with crafting the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. He said that he’s still talking with the other budget negotiators— Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana— but there appears to be less and less for them to do.
Funding for nine Cabinet departments and several smaller agencies runs out December 21. Republicans will run the House until early January, when Democrats will take over.
The border wall is part of the homeland security budget. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said lawmakers were discussing the possibility of passing other agencies’ budgets. They would then rely on a stopgap measure for Homeland Security to avert a government shutdown if no compromise can be reached.
This would give Pelosi even more power over the issue because it would kick the debate into her speakership, Yoder noted.
Yoder said that he still thought Trump’s best course is to look for a dollar figure somewhere in between the House and Senate plans.
“That’s the humorous part of this. He has (previously) indicated that he would be willing to negotiate that,” said Yoder, whose re-election loss in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district was largely blamed on suburban voters’ frustration with the president.
The Homeland Security budget bill crafted by the House would provide $5 billion for increased border security. It would not pay for the construction of a wall for the full length of the border, but would provide funding to build new barriers along portions of border in Texas where there is significant human trafficking and drug trafficking, Yoder said.
He said the bill does not specifically prescribe what types of barriers those will be. It gives flexibility to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to make that decision, he said.
“This isn’t being written anywhere.... It’s ‘wall or no wall,’” Yoder said.
Trump has latched onto the $5 billion figure. The wall terminology is important for Trump, who ran on a promise of constructing a border wall, and many of Yoder’s fellow Republicans are eager to vote on the proposal— even if it has little chance in the Senate— before Democrats take control of the House.
“We’re demanding an opportunity to vote on the $5 billion,” said Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas.
“I’m very willing to stay here through Christmas, until January the 1st, to fund the $5 billion,” he said.
Speculation is building in Washington that GOP House leaders may move forward with a vote on the Yoder-crafted Homeland Security bill with the $5 billion for border security after Pelosi told Trump that he lacked the votes in the House for a border wall.
It was news to Yoder, who oversaw the creation of the bill.
“I’ve been reading about that myself. I don’t know how likely that is,” Yoder said. “I know that that subject came up yesterday in the Oval Office about whether or not we could pass it… I’ve not done the whip count.” A whip count advises leaders on how many votes a measure can expect to receive.
Passing the bill is Yoder’s last chance to fulfill a promise to the Indian community in his district to pass a change to the green card system that will make it easier for high-skilled workers from India and China to obtain green cards by removing a per-country cap.
“He is going around to the Senate, to the House and saying, ‘I have one thing I want in this bill. Don’t take it out,’” said Leon Fresco, the general counsel for Immigration Voice, the main advocacy group pushing the legislation. “The clock may run out on us but it won’t be for Yoder’s lack of effort.”
The proposal has wide support, but faces opposition from the American Hospital Association, which is concerned the proposed changes will make it harder for nurses from the Philippines to obtain green cards. Conservative immigration groups also objected to the policy’s inclusion in a budget bill.
Yoder acknowledged the opposition Wednesday and said he was working to resolve it.
As it stands, Yoder’s bill also includes several provisions sponsored by Democrats that would roll back key Trump administration immigration policies.
One provision currently would make it easier for immigrants to claim asylum if they credibly feared domestic or gang violence.
Another provision would forbid the Department of Homeland Security from separating a child from a parent unless the parent had “a criminal history, a communicable disease, or is determined to unfit or a danger to the child.”
Yoder supported the addition of both measures when the bill passed out of his subcommittee in July, but pulled his support from the asylum provision after coming under attack by Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham and other conservative personalities for what they saw as a betrayal of Trump’s agenda.
The current version of Yoder’s DHS funding bill also would restart the Obama-era Family Case Management Program for asylum seekers.
The program, which had been discontinued by the Trump administration in 2017, favored case management for parents who crossed the border with children, rather than detention. It costs the federal government $36 for an entire family each day, compared to over $319 a day for family detention, and ensured the families had access to social and other services, including legal information.
The staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, led by Republican Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, have said their group’s members will not vote on any budget bill that includes the language on asylum and family case management, which they refer to as “catch and release.”
Meadows and Jordan want to change the bill’s language to require asylum seekers’ credible fear claims to meet a higher standard of evidence in their initial screening.
“It would pretty much demolish the asylum amendment that Yoder added to it by closing the credible fear loophole — it would in effect reverse what Yoder was trying to do,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reducing immigration.
The amendment would also add an additional 375 immigration judges to keep the backlog of half a million asylum claims from growing.