House Republican leaders delayed an expected vote that would kick off consideration of their long-awaited border bill on Wednesday as they scrambled to shore up support.
Some GOP lawmakers voiced concerns about a provision on E-Verify — the government system that checks whether an individual is authorized to work in the U.S. — along with how the bill handles drug cartels.
Moderate members such as Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) who were concerned about the effect mandatory E-Verify would have on agriculture had expected GOP leadership to alter the bill in the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night with language that directs the Homeland Security Secretary to consider the adverse impacts of mandating E-Verify before implementing it.
But when the House Rules Committee returned from an hours-long recess shortly after midnight on Wednesday, it passed the bill without making any changes.
Members met with House GOP leadership to discuss the bill as the House stayed in recess more than an hour past an originally scheduled 1:30 p.m. vote to pass the rule and start consideration of the bill.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who has vented frustration over the bill not doing more to target drug cartels, warned on Tuesday evening that “more than five” GOP members — enough to sink the bill assuming every Democrat votes — would vote against the bill over opposition to a section that directs a study on whether drug cartels should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
“If you designate a cartel as a terrorist organization, you’ve effectively created an asylum claim for millions of people,” Crenshaw said. “It’s a very serious unintended consequence. And we don’t want that.”
But Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.), lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday that the bill has language specifically intended to prevent that kind of asylum claim.
“We’ll get through it, like we always do,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said while walking from Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office to House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s (R-Minn.) office.
The internal discord over the H.R. 2 Secure the Border Act came at a delicate time for House Republicans. The party is eager to fulfill campaign promises to address border and immigration issues and had already dealt with very public sparring over asylum provisions that were later assuaged with markups in committee.
And the timing of the bill coincides with a consequential week for the Biden administration. The House GOP had aimed to pass the bill on Thursday, the same day that Title 42 — the pandemic-era measure that has allowed officials to refuse entry to migrants based on public health concerns — expires.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), leaving McCarthy’s office, told reporters that he is seeking reforms to agricultural labor to go along with the E-Verify expansion. He mentioned his Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would reform the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program.
“I’m feeling good about the progress,” Newhouse said.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) had also said he was concerned with the impacts on agriculture. A spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that Simpson “supports border security and leadership’s efforts on this legislation,” and “wants to ensure that any legislation both secures the border and ensures that American agriculture producers have access to a stable workforce now and in the future.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky.) office said earlier this week that he intended to vote against the bill over the concern the E-Verify measures could give the government too much power.
“I never thought I’d see Republicans clamor to give Joe Biden an employment off-switch for every American, after he just used threat of non-employment to force vaccinate millions of Americans,” Massie said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Mandatory federal e-verify will ultimately not be used for the purposes advertised.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.