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Eagle Pass

Inside the House GOP shift on the border

EAGLE PASS, Texas — We detected a shift while here at the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday that might help inform how January and February will unfold on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans seem to be itching to have a fight over border security as part of the government funding debate heading into the Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 shutdown deadlines. Back in Washington, Senate negotiators and the Biden administration are still working under the assumption that their border-security framework — if a deal is reached — will be paired with aid for Ukraine and Israel.

But that no longer seems guaranteed.

Top House GOP lawmakers — committee chairs and the party’s most seasoned lawmakers — say they want to push the Democratic-run Senate and the Biden administration to insert restrictive border policies into any government funding bills. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have taken to saying that Republicans should shut the federal government down unless the border is secured.

This also comes as House GOP leaders prepare to begin impeachment hearings on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas starting next week, with the ongoing migrant crisis as the top issue, as we scooped in the AM edition Wednesday.

The danger here is that House Republicans are not in sync with the Senate and the Biden administration when it comes to how the government should secure the border.

Take House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), whose committee has jurisdiction over immigration policy.

Jordan said Wednesday that Republicans should “look to any bill” that’s moving to insert language aimed at stemming the flow of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Jordan and Speaker Mike Johnson both said President Joe Biden should immediately move to declare a national emergency and reinstate Trump-era policies he ended in 2021.

“The best way is for [Biden to declare an emergency at the border],” Jordan said. “The second best way is H.R. 2. The third best way,” Jordan said, is to insert into every single funding bill that the federal government “cannot use American tax dollars to process or release into the country any new migrant.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) told us here that “there’s no doubt” that the government funding debate is the time to have a showdown over border security.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a 20-year veteran of Congress who is retiring at the end of this year, said the border debate “has to be” part of the government funding discussion because “there’s no other vehicle that’s going to move.”

The challenge here for House Republicans is multifaceted.

No. 1: Republicans have been making the case for months that the border is a national security issue and should therefore be addressed as part of Biden’s massive supplemental funding request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But tying border security and immigration policy changes directly to the government-funding fight could leave these three U.S. allies empty-handed — especially since these proposed policy changes are intended to win over the requisite number of Republicans to back the foreign-aid package.

No. 2: Johnson asserts that it would be irresponsible for House Republicans to accept anything less than H.R. 2, the restrictive border-and-immigration bill that House Republicans passed last May. No House Democrats voted for that bill, and it’s gone nowhere in the Democratic-run Senate.

It was very interesting to hear Johnson on Wednesday talk about H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act, which has no prayer of becoming law. Johnson laid out a very detailed case of why Republicans cannot compromise on any part of the bill:

Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have publicly suggested that by continuing to push for H.R. 2, House Republicans are effectively trying to cut off Ukraine aid. Many Republicans won’t vote for Ukraine aid anyway, even if it was paired with H.R. 2.

At this point, it’s difficult to see it any other way. Grouping border policy changes with the broader funding fight is a sure way to cut off Ukraine aid. And it’s an even surer way to kill any chance of Congress addressing the border crisis. This, of course, can only be done by getting 60 votes in the Senate.

Funding latest: Meanwhile, top figures at the White House and on Capitol Hill are trying to work out how to fund federal agencies beyond Jan. 19. One idea under consideration is to maintain current funding levels through the end of this fiscal year, with no sequestration, according to multiple sources. This would essentially function as a year-long CR, but would be treated as if it’s a new appropriation. Remember, Democrats in both chambers and Senate Republicans have been warning against an approach that simply keeps spending flat.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio, Mica Soellner and John Bresnahan

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