Boehner's humiliating defeat: House border bill scratched at last minute

The House appeared all set to pass border legislation after making concessions to the right. It still wasn't enough

Published July 31, 2014 9:00PM (EDT)

John Boehner                                   (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
John Boehner (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

The Republican House leadership, after giving so many concessions away to conservatives and their informal leader, Sen. Ted Cruz, still couldn't pull together enough votes. A vote on its $659 million border supplemental was pulled from the floor minutes before it was scheduled, and then officially dropped. It's a total embarrassment for Boehner and his new leadership team, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and whip Steve Scalise, who were relying on its passage as proof that they were "ready to govern." Now, unless they can scramble something together to save face, they'll head into the five-week August recess having agreed to sue President Obama but not on any immigration-related bill, no matter how hard-line it had become.

The bill's chances weren't looking so bad this morning. After pressure from Cruz and conservatives, Boehner had agreed to offer a separate vote on ending DACA,with language barring President Obama from acting further through executive actions on deferring deportations. "Exiting a closed-door morning huddle at the Republican National Committee" this morning, the Washington Post reported only a couple of hours before the scheduled vote, "senior Republicans had expressed confidence that the Boehner proposal would pass." It appeared that adding a wildly more confrontational vote on DACA had provided conservative members the cover they sought.

Still, conservatives weren't perfectly pleased. They don't like appropriating any money that President Obama requests, for starters. And they would have much more preferred the DACA proposal to be fused with the supplemental, making the DACA proposal harder for Senate Democrats to flick away. The editor in chief of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, had also published an editorial Thursday morning imploring House Republicans to "kill the bill," seeing little political upside for them. "The president's approval rating is slipping to historic lows. Let it continue to slide," Kristol wrote. "Don't bail him out by jamming though a bill that divides Republicans, will confuse voters, won't become law anyway, muddies responsibility for the border fiasco, and takes the spotlight off what should be the focus of the August recess -- President Obama's failed policies and Congressional Democrats' support for them."

It was Kristol, and Cruz, who got their way.

The House was scheduled to vote on the bill between 1:00 and 1:30 Thursday afternoon. Once debate on the measure ended, however, something strange happened: The House switched up the schedule and started debating a fix to the Highway Trust Fund instead.

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Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, hilariously, claimed that the schedule change merely reflected his desire to debate everything first, and then have all the votes. Huh?

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But no, it really was pulled, because Republicans didn't have the votes, because they are an amazing cartoon clown show from outer space.

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Boehner and the leadership, in a statement, chalked the failure ("this situation") to "the intense concern within our conference -- and among the American people -- about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws." Got it. Boehner's complete inability to run a legislative body is Obama's fault. And then, in the very next sentence: "There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries." So yesterday the House sued Obama for acting unilaterally ... and today it's urging him to act on his own, "without the need for congressional action," to solve this border situation on his own. Isn't that something. (Harry Reid, master troll, agrees about President Obama's ability to act.)

An emergency closed-door conference meeting was called for 3 p.m. to figure out what to do next. Several members had to be called back from the airport. Members are already planning to stay another day, with a 9 a.m. meeting scheduled for Friday.

We'll see if they can bring this back from the dead, but the humiliation is already in effect.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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