House GOP makes last-minute tweaks to border security bill

House GOP makes last-minute tweaks to border security bill

The House started floor debate Wednesday on a Republican-led border security package after a four-hour delay, as leadership negotiated with members who were withholding their support for the measure.

Holdouts primarily had two areas of concern with the sweeping immigration bill, but GOP leadership appeared to resolve both with a series of meetings, commitments and a last-minute manager’s amendment.

The deals gave the Republican majority more confidence about the vote count on the border security package, which they’ve touted as one of their top legislative priorities. A vote on final passage is scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the planned end to pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42.

One group of Republicans from agriculture-heavy districts wanted tweaks to address concerns that the bill could exacerbate farm labor shortages, since it eventually would require employers to electronically verify that new hires have permission to legally work in the country.

GOP leaders assured the agriculture district members that any final border or immigration bill negotiated with the Senate and sent to the president’s desk would address their concerns about E-Verify and the agriculture workforce.

And the leaders also included a nonbinding provision in the manager’s amendment to express the sense of Congress that, in implementing the E-Verify requirement, the Homeland Security secretary “shall ensure any adverse impact on the nation’s agricultural workforce, operations and food security are considered and addressed.”

Another group of Republicans raised concerns that a provision to initiate a report by the Biden administration into whether Mexican cartels should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations could unintentionally lead to more asylum claims.

The manager’s amendment tweaked that section to instead require Congress to commission a report that would discuss a “national strategy” to address the cartels and whether they should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.

The House voted 236-190 to adopt the manager’s amendment into the rule governing floor debate on the bill. The House then voted 215-209 to adopt the rule, which allows for up to five hours of debate with no further amendments.

If the House passes the border security package, it is unlikely to gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where bills need at least 60 votes to advance under chamber rules. The White House has already said that President Joe Biden would veto the bill if it came to his desk.

Some of the Republicans who had concerns about the E-Verify provision initially said Tuesday that leadership had been willing to address them in an amendment during the House Rules Committee markup.

Agricultural industry groups have warned that the E-Verify provision would decimate the sector, which relies heavily on undocumented migrants, prompting concerns with lawmakers who represent farm-heavy districts. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 40 percent of hired crop farmworkers do not have legal immigration status.

Rep. Tom McClintock of California, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said Tuesday that Republicans planned to add language that would shield the agricultural industry from the E-Verify requirement if it would cause too much of a disruption.

But when the Rules Committee met that evening into the early hours of Wednesday morning, no changes were approved.

Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, who represents an agricultural district, said Wednesday afternoon that he was still conversing with Republican leaders about potential changes to the E-Verify language, and that they were “getting really close.”

“I’m very optimistic,” Newhouse said. “Leadership’s been great. They’ve been talking to us and exchanging ideas, so I feel good about the progress remaining.”

Hours later, it appeared that Newhouse and other moderates who had raised concerns about the E-Verify mandate were willing to support the legislation with just the nonbinding provision added in the manager’s amendment and a separate commitment from leadership.

“What they committed to is that nothing would go to the president’s desk to be signed into law that didn’t have both the E-Verify provisions and reforms to the ag labor program,” Newhouse said.

He said members involved in the agreement will hold a colloquy on the floor before Thursday’s vote “to state the commitment by leadership that we’re both on the same page and things are going to move together.”

Newhouse said other agriculture district members who had concerns, which include Reps. David Valadao of California and Mike Simpson of Idaho, seem appeased by the agreement too.

Valadao said via Twitter he would vote for the border bill “because of these assurances on addressing E-Verify.”

Not all members were on board with the changes the agriculture district members had sought but were left out the bill. Texas Republican Rep. Keith Self said he was “really concerned” about carving out an exemption from the E-Verify mandate for the agricultural sector.

And Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said he wasn’t personally hung up on the E-Verify provision but that changing it would have lost more votes than it would have gained.

Burchett said he was “leaning” toward supporting the bill but wanted to “double check” a few things before officially deciding to vote yes.

Cartels study

Meanwhile, Rep. Daniel Crenshaw of Texas and other Republican lawmakers pressed to change a provision related to designating Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.

Crenshaw said he and other members feared the original language to initiate a Department of Homeland Security report into the issue would create a basis for more asylum claims.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., sought to address those concerns in Republicans’ weekly conference meeting Wednesday morning, “citing the page and line” in the bill that said the study would not impact asylum claims, Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole said.

But later Wednesday several Republicans — many members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus — met with Emmer to again raise concerns about the provision. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., left the meeting and said his concerns were addressed and he planned to support the bill.

Texas Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, who has pushed to designate the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, lamented the change in the manager’s amendment.

“It’s disappointing when you’ve got folks that want to water down a terrorist designation when we’re in the middle of a crisis,” Gonzales told reporters.

Though he voted against the manager’s amendment, Gonzales signaled he would still vote to pass the border bill itself on Thursday.

The back-and-forth comes one day before the Title 42 border expulsion policy is set to terminate with the expiration of the COVID-19 public health emergency order.

This policy has allowed border agents to turn back migrants without considering their asylum claims for more than three years, and the Department of Homeland Security has projected agents could see as many as 13,000 migrants crossing the border each day once the directive lifts.

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