Politics & Policy

House GOP Fears ‘Gang of Eight’ Trojan Horse In Border-Crisis Bill

Some congressmen suspect Dems will try to smuggle comprehensive reform into a crisis funding bill.

Immigration hawks don’t want House Republicans to include border-security provisions in legislation addressing the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America.

That counterintuitive position stems from a fear that Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) will use a conference committee — the panel of lawmakers who work to resolve differences between House-passed and Senate-passed bills — to force the House to vote on the comprehensive immigration bill written by the Senate “Gang of Eight.”

“Any immigration policy changes that House Republicans make and send over to the Senate is conference-able with the Senate immigration plan,” Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower immigration, tells National Review Online.

An aide to House speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) says there is no chance that the House would permit Senate lawmakers to smuggle the Gang of Eight legislation into a conference committee on the supplemental funding for the border crisis.

“Boehner said a year ago we aren’t going to conference on the Senate bill,” spokesman Michael Steel says. “He has reiterated countless times since that anything we do on this topic will be step-by-step, and that certainly applies to any legislation having to do with the current humanitarian crisis on the border.”

Still, that concern has dissuaded Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) from introducing a bill to change the 2008 human-trafficking law that provides Central American children with a slower removal process than children from Mexico or Canada.

“I don’t want to see a vehicle coming out of the House that gives Harry Reid a chance to attach the Gang of Eight language to it and then send it back to the House and say, ‘We have all of these kids that are down here pouring into the United States, and we can’t fix that unless you first pass amnesty,’” King, who was working on the legislation before the July 4 recess, tells NRO.

Boehner’s assurances don’t sway King. “If leadership says that we’re not going to accept Gang of Eight, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to accept part of it,” he says. “I think they’re soon going to be advocating for parts of it. And that would include the border-security language. It looks like that’s already emerging as part of the [Texas congresswoman] Kay Granger work group. And that language, its origins go to the Gang of Eight, before [the Corker-Hoeven amendment,]” a provision that provided more funding for border security.

A House leadership aide says that comprehensive immigration legislation is too significant to pass through a trick in conference committee.

“That’s something that used to happen with obscure policy provisions and earmarks when both parties agreed on them or there was some sort of agreement — it’s not a realistic scenario,” the aide says. For the trick to work, the lawmakers appointed by Boehner to the conference committee would have to agree to insert the legislation as an amendment and House leadership would also have to sign off. Another longtime Hill aide predicts that House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) wouldn’t allow his funding bill to be taken over by the Gang of Eight.

Fairly or unfairly, doubts about House leadership’s determination not to take up the Gang of Eight legislation are causing conservatives in both chambers to hesitate to pass even legislation that they support. One Senate aide praised, for instance, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act authored by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah).

“The conservatives that I’ve talked to are all very favorable towards it, but this is not something that we’d want to connect to any kind of supplemental, and it’s probably not something that we would even want to do this year, just because of the whole conference issue,” the Senate aide says. “We can’t trust Democrats to conference without dropping in the Gang of Eight.”

The aide suggests that “when the money starts flowing in telling people what to do,” House leaders and conferees might be more willing to allow at least part of the Gang of Eight bill into the supplemental funding legislation.

King predicts that enough House Republicans distrust the conference process to prevent the House from passing a bill, estimating that 50–70 congressmen already agree with him.

“I think that we’ve come this far — a year-and-a-half or a year-and-three-quarters; we’re almost through this Congress — having been relatively successful in avoiding large immigration mistakes,” King says. “And to make ourselves vulnerable, to give this up at this point, I think that you’re going to see a significant core of Republicans that not only will oppose this thing aggressively in the conference but will be prepared to oppose this thing at [the] Rules [Committee].”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review Online.

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