SAN ANTONIO — We’re heading down to Eagle Pass this morning to meet up with Speaker Mike Johnson and 60 House Republicans who are here to tour the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district runs along the border, worked privately with Johnson and his staff to plan the trip. Gonzales has hosted nearly two dozen delegation visits to the border during the last few years. The Texas Republican told us that he believes this will be the largest congressional trip ever to the region.
The tour began Tuesday night when lawmakers met with Joel Martinez, the U.S. Border Patrol’s chief patrol agent for the Laredo sector. The delegation will head to Eagle Pass today, where members are expected to visit the “Firefly” tent processing center.
Republican lawmakers will also meet with Mike Banks, Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s border czar, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and ranchers and local citizens to discuss what life is like on the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border.
Most interestingly, this trip comes as the Senate and the White House try to hammer out a border security and immigration package. Republicans have conditioned aid to Ukraine on the passage of a border-and-immigration bill. Several senators — including Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — returned to Washington this week to continue to negotiate.
Murphy said Tuesday that the negotiators will need to update senators on their talks when the chamber returns to session next week, regardless of whether the group clinches a deal by then. Some senators have griped about how the details of the ongoing negotiations are shrouded in secrecy.
Most lawmakers understand that the situation on the southern border isn’t sustainable. But where they differ is on the substance of what needs to be done and how.
There are two dynamics we’d like to point out this morning.
Gonzales says the House won’t rubber-stamp a Senate border deal. Gonzales is a key figure to watch in the coming debate. His district covers a huge chunk of the U.S. border with Mexico, and House GOP leaders have frequently looked to Gonzales for guidance on migrant policy. Gonzales told us he’s in near daily contact with the Senate’s border negotiating team.
Which is why our ears perked up when he told us Tuesday that if the Senate comes up with an immigration-and-border deal, the House will want major changes:
This is important to keep in mind. In many ways, it shows the folly of the White House deciding to negotiate with the Senate instead of with the House. It’s why last spring’s debt deal was between the White House and then Speaker Kevin McCarthy — because House passage was the real test.
Gonzales said he wants Congress to significantly increase how many repatriation flights it conducts each day for undocumented migrants. As of now, Gonzales said ICE uses this practice for migrants who have no claim of asylum in the United States. In addition, Gonzales said he’d push for tougher border security in the bill.
Johnson’s test. Today is Johnson’s 70th day as speaker of the House. It’s been difficult to get a good read on how Johnson intends to govern. On a number of issues, he’s been difficult to nail down. See FISA renewal, for example.
But today is Johnson’s first public event of 2024, and he faces several weighty challenges in the coming months.
On the border, we’ll have to see how much more detail Johnson gets into on what he can or cannot accept in a border package. As of now, Johnson has said that he wants any Senate package to mirror H.R. 2, the hardline House GOP border-security proposal. No House Democrats voted for the measure back in May, and it’s gone nowhere in the Democratic-run Senate.
However, Johnson has also begun getting top-level intelligence briefings and is in favor of funding Ukraine, which is a change for him.
On government funding, we’re eager to hear more about how Johnson plans to avoid a partial government shutdown in 16 days. Negotiators have made some progress in crafting a topline spending plan, but there’s no deal yet. Johnson has said he’s not going to pass any more short-term CRs. So what is his solution?
While in Texas, Johnson is holding a news conference and sitting down for interviews with CNN’s Jake Tapper and CBS’ Margaret Brennan.
— Jake Sherman