Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is going all-in on border issues as he takes a second shot this week at passing a GOP-only short-term funding bill that would pair an extension of government funding with a swath of border policy changes.
McCarthy is racing against a competing continuing resolution (CR) unveiled in the Senate on Tuesday and a Saturday government shutdown deadline.
In trying to coalesce is fractious conference around a stopgap funding proposal of his own, the Speaker is aiming to reframe the funding battle as a choice for President Biden — and his hard-line opponents as siding with the president on border issues.
“The president could keep government open by doing something on the border,” McCarthy said Tuesday.
McCarthy said he would try to put the GOP CR proposal on the floor “probably” Friday — which would leave just a day for negotiation with the Senate and White House before the shutdown deadline.
The Speaker also said he would put the bill on the floor no matter where the vote count is — an acknowledgement of the challenge he faces wrangling his conference on a stopgap. A handful of holdouts forced leaders to pull a similar proposal last week, and several of them insist they will never vote for a CR to keep the government open.
“It doesn’t matter what you attach to it. A CR is, in my very definition, a continuation of Nancy Pelosi spending, and it’s Joe Biden’s policies,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.). “I voted against these things for two years. So I’m not going to now turn around and vote for a continuation of those.”
McCarthy, though, is taking a stronger tone against those holdouts as he aims for a second shot at a GOP-only CR.
“If they want to stand with the president by keeping the border open, I think that’d be a wrong position,” McCarthy said.
Republican disagreement over how to approach the government shutdown had sent the House GOP into chaos last week, as rebels insisted that Republicans should focus on full-year appropriations bills first. After hard-liners sunk two procedural votes last week, the House voted to advance four appropriations bills Tuesday, a move that McCarthy allies hoped would build goodwill with the stopgap holdouts.
McCarthy said he would bring up the GOP-only short-term funding bill regardless of whether those four appropriations bills passed this week.
Leaders have not yet revealed new bill text for the proposal, but McCarthy indicated it would be a proposal that the conference discussed last week, attaching the bulk of the House Republicans’ H.R. 2 border crackdown bill that passed earlier this year.
That bill includes numerous Trump-era policies such as requiring authorities to detain all migrants or return them to Mexico or their home country, and restarting construction of the border wall. But the stopgap would nix mandating that employers use E-Verify, a system used to check whether someone is authorized to work in the U.S. — which some moderate Republicans opposed.
McCarthy stressed that Republicans are focusing on policies at the border rather than funding.
“The border doesn’t need more money to be solved. It needs a policy change that the president put in when he became president. You have the materials to finish the wall now. He’s paying money to make sure the wall doesn’t get built,” McCarthy said.
In addition to the border measures, McCarthy said the bill would also cut discretionary funding for duration of a CR to a top-line spending level of $1.471 trillion — the number from the House GOP’s “Limit, Save, Grow” partisan debt limit bill from earlier this year that was consistent with fiscal 2022 levels. Republicans in a conference meeting last week also discussed creating a commission to examine the national debt.
The length of a stopgap could also change compared to the month-long measure that leaders were forced to pull from the House floor last week. McCarthy said he is looking at extending government funding from 30-45 days.
Turmoil over how to approach government funding has roiled the GOP.
But Republican lawmakers have been united in their desire to play hardball on the border — and the plan to do so has been in the works for months.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a key McCarthy ally, said that the idea to pair border policy measures with a CR to fund the government was first floated by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, earlier this year during a GOP leadership retreat.
Jordan laid out Tuesday what he saw as the most important concession on border issues.
“Whatever bill we wind up funding the government for should say no money can be used to process or release any new migrants into the country. That is essential,” Jordan said. “And then any other elements of H.R. 2 we can get in there, great, I’m all for that too. But that’s the essential part.”
Border policy changes have also been a longtime ask for many hard-line conservatives. The House Freedom Caucus in August said it would not accept a stopgap that does not include policy changes relating to the border. Also in August, a group of 15 Texas Republicans led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said they would not fund the Department of Homeland Security without “forcing the significant change necessary to secure the southern border.”
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a key McCarthy ally, said last week that he would support shutting down the government if the Biden administration is not willing to make border policy changes after the House GOP passes its planned CR — even as he warned about the consequences of a shutdown.
Asked Tuesday if he would be willing to shut down the government over the border, McCarthy said: “Let’s be very clear, it would not be on us.”
The Speaker downplayed the prospect of the Democratic-controlled Senate automatically rejecting a GOP bill.
“Why would it be dead on arrival?” McCarthy said. He repeatedly pointed to recent concerns voiced by New York City Mayor Adams (D) and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) about how the migrant crisis has affected their city and state.
“It’s interesting,” McCarthy told reporters later in the day. “Leader Schumer comes from New York. His governor is crying out, his mayor is crying out. Well, shouldn’t he listen to them too? I think that would be important.”
The Senate, meanwhile, advanced the legislative vehicle for its own CR, which it unveiled Tuesday. The stopgap proposal would extend funding until Nov. 17 at current levels, and it includes roughly $6.15 billion in aid for Ukraine and $5.99 billion in disaster assistance. Additionally, the measure would temporarily extend the expiring authority of the Federal Aviation Administration.
But McCarthy refused to comment about how he would respond to the Senate’s CR.
“It’s always a hypothetical that the Senate is going to do something,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to take up hypotheticals.”
Graves last week pointed to the threat of a Senate CR, and moderate Republicans working with Democrats to avert a shutdown, as a reason why Republicans should band together to pass a GOP CR with border measures.
“The alternative is you move forward, you don’t pass a CR, you let government shut down, the Senate sends something over here that, ultimately, you have Democrats and some moderate Republicans — except you’ve lost your conservative opportunity,” Graves said. “Why in the world would you cede this to Chuck Schumer, would you cede this to Joe Biden?”
Mychael Schnell and Aris Folley contributed.