WASHINGTON -- After canceling a vote on funding to address the border crisis because not enough House Republicans supported it, GOP members were scrambling for a new solution so they don't go home to face constituents with nothing.
Members met Thursday afternoon to figure out a game plan. Afterward, they said there was near-consensus on one thing: They'll stay in Washington, postponing the start of their August recess, until they pass something.
"I think we'll be here until we vote. We might be here tonight, we might be here tomorrow, we might be here at the end of the so-called break," Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) told reporters.
"We could be here until Christmas," quipped Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas).
The House and Senate are working to pass measures to address the influx of more than 57,500 unaccompanied minors apprehended since October crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. The initial House bill would have provided $659 million in funding -- compared with President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion -- and added measures that would send the National Guard to the border and change a 2008 law to speed deportation of minors.
When it appeared the bill lacked enough votes to pass, Republican House leaders added a plan to vote on legislation that would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that allows undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children at least seven years ago to stay temporarily.
That plan also failed to attract 218 supporters, a majority of the House, amid heavy opposition from Democrats. It appeared for a time that House members would leave for recess without even holding a vote on the border crisis, exposing themselves to criticism from Obama, Democrats, and their own constituents. But members told leadership they wanted to stay until they passed something.
House Republican leaders -- Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) -- issued a statement after the vote was canceled, saying they "will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis and other challenges facing our country."
"This situation shows the intense concern within our conference -- and among the American people -- about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws," the Republican leaders said. "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."
Now, House leaders are reworking the package to woo more GOP votes, with a strong possibility of alienating the initial bill's few Democratic supporters and ensuring its failure in the Senate. The Senate will hold votes on its own proposal later Thursday, but it is expected to fall short of the 60-vote threshold for approval.
House Republican members said changes to their package may include adding the bill to end DACA to the funding legislation directly, rather than making it a separate vote, and changing the 2008 law further to limit exceptions that would allow some minors to remain in the country longer. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a member of a working group that helped shape the policy of the initial bill, said "the ideas that were originally proposed are just going to be made stronger."
While members seemed unified on their desire to vote, some immigration hardliners said they still had concerns that may go unmet. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said he was "still a no" and was unsure Republicans could reach consensus, although he didn't rule out supporting a bill.
"I think there are some members who don't want DACA voted out at all, and that's a problem," Fleming said. "So you have Republicans who are on one end of the scale and others that are on the other end. To get 218 somewhere in the middle is very difficult."
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said he wants the bill to give new powers to the National Guard, in addition to adding a provision to end DACA and changing the 2008 trafficking law.
"I want our National Guard troops to actually be patrolling the border," Brooks said. "I don't want them babysitting our kids. I don't think that's their job."
Brooks was among the House members reportedly urged personally by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to oppose the initial bill. Brooks said the senator "doesn't control anyone's vote in the Alabama House," but his opinion "carried a lot of weight."
Bachus shot down the idea that Sessions had convinced the Alabama delegation to oppose the bill.
"The Senate doesn't tell me how to vote," Bachus said.
Despite the discord, House Republicans insisted they were optimistic about reaching a deal. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), one of the more moderate GOP members, demurred when asked whether the issue was between tea party-aligned Republicans and others.
"I have some feelings, but I don’t want to say anything that’s gonna upset this right now," King said. "So right now, we’re one big happy family working together to do the job by tomorrow. ... It’s our job to get it done. You can’t run and hide.”
UPDATE: 8:22 p.m. -- The Washington Post's Robert Costa reported later Thursday that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whom some blamed for the failure of the House bill, denied pressuring Republican members to vote against the legislation. Cruz said he had met with them Wednesday evening to discuss issues more generally.
"The suggestion by some that House members are unable to stand up and fight for their own conservative principles is offensive and belittling to House conservatives," Cruz said. "They know what they believe, and it would be absurd for anyone to try to tell them what to think. In order for Washington to work better, and for Republicans to work better, and for Republicans to come together to defend conservative principles, we need to build relationships between both chambers, and I’m working hard to do so. There should be much more of that in Washington."
Marina Fang, Sam Levine and David McCabe contributed reporting.