U.S. House votes down border bill favored by conservatives

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U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a news conference after a weekly House Republican Conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol Building on November 14, 2023, in Washington. Johnson brought a Republican border security bill to a floor vote Saturday in an effort to appease conservative members of his conference, but the bill was defeated. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Saturday failed to pass a border security bill that Republican leadership intended as an incentive for conservatives to support a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The border bill, turned down on a 215-199 vote, was brought to the floor under a fast-track procedure known as suspension of the rules that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. The conservatives it was meant to appeal to slammed it as a “show vote.”

Five Democrats, Donald G. Davis of North Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Mary Peltola of Alaska and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, voted with all Republicans present in favor of the bill.

The border security bill – nearly identical to legislation House Republicans passed last year – was an attempt by House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana to quell growing hard-right dissatisfaction prompted by his support for the $95 billion foreign aid package expected to pass Saturday with the help of Democrats.

The measure is separate and not part of a package of three supplemental funding bills containing aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as another so-called sidecar bill dealing with TikTok. The Senate will be able to clear the foreign aid package and ignore the border security bill that closely resembles another House-passed border bill the Senate has not acted on.

Rather than quell their unrest, Johnson’s move produced only more ire from hard-right members. Three Republicans – Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona – are already backing a move to oust Johnson through a motion to vacate.

During Friday’s floor debate, Democrats argued that the bill, H.R. 3602, was a rehash of H.R. 2, a bill House Republicans passed last year that would reinstate Trump-era immigration policies such as the construction of the border wall. Both bills would also require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico.

Border bill return

Republicans were largely in favor of the border bill, but several referred to the vote as a “sham” and admitted the bill would not pass in the Senate, which Democrats control.

“House Republicans are trying again to make our Democrat colleagues and President Biden take this border crisis seriously,” Alabama’s Barry Moore said.

The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler of New York, said the bill was a “foolhardy attempt to pass for a second time one of the most draconian immigration bills this Congress has ever seen. This rehashing of H.R. 2 is a joke.”

“Republicans have proven that they want the issue more than they want solutions,” he said. “So here we are, again, taking a virtually same draconian bill as before, knowing that if it actually passes the House it will surely go nowhere in the Senate.”

Nadler argued if Republicans were serious about addressing immigration at the southern border, they would have supported the bipartisan border bill in the Senate, instead of rejecting it.

Three senators – Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy and Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema – spent months crafting a bill that would overhaul immigration policy at the request of Senate Republicans who insisted border security provisions should be included in the foreign aid package.

But congressional Republicans walked away from it early this year at the urging of GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, who was not supportive of the bill because he is centering his reelection campaign on immigration.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, argued that the bill “isn’t quite H.R. 2.”

The bill is nearly identical to H.R. 2, but removes the mandate for employers to verify a worker’s immigration status and employment eligibility, and includes about $9 billion in grant programs for border states.

“Let’s take a step in the direction of fixing it and pass this legislation,” Jordan said of the southern border.

A ‘sham’

Washington state Democrat and chair of the Progressive Congressional Caucus Pramila Jayapal said the bill was pointless.

“The majority could barely pass this legislation last year,” she said, referring to the party-line vote in 2023. “And now it’s going to magically pass it in the House with a two-thirds majority? Give me a break. This bill is going nowhere, so let’s just be clear about that.”

Texas Republican Chip Roy agreed that the bill would not become law, and expressed his frustration that the GOP would not try to leverage foreign aid money for it.

“Republicans continue to campaign on securing the border and then refuse to use any leverage to actually secure the border,” Roy said. “We should get it signed into law but the only way to force Democrats to do it is to use leverage.”

Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs also agreed with Roy and Democrats that “this is a show vote.”

Pennsylvania’s GOP Rep. Scott Perry echoed similar remarks, but said he would still vote for the bill even though it’s “designed to fail.”

“But I want everybody to know it’s a sham,” Perry said.

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