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Tensions high as House GOP tackles take two at border bill

House Republicans are taking a second crack at a border package after a previous plan to address an issue that fueled the party’s midterm messaging fizzled due to objections from moderate members. 

Leaders forecast that a new package could start moving in late April, but internal tension between moderates and border hawks threatens to sink the latest effort.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), who helped scuttle the first attempt at a bill, said he has “a lot of issues” with the package being crafted now, which would go through both the House Homeland Security and Judiciary committees.

Multiple bipartisan efforts to address border and immigration issues have collapsed over the last few decades, but the House GOP’s struggle to come up with even a party-line measure demonstrates the difficulty of the issue and of unifying the narrow Republican majority.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said the bill would include a number of measures crafted by the House GOP’s “task force” before the midterm elections.

That task force proposal released last year called to renew border wall projects, investments in border security technology, implementation of Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” migrant protection protocols (MPP) and changes to the asylum process, among other measures.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) proposed a slimmed down version of the wider GOP package, which would direct the Homeland Security secretary to essentially shut down the border to migrants until “operational control” is achieved.

Opponents of Roy’s bill say that standard is impossible to meet because it defines operational control under the terms of a 2006 law that requires zero illegal crossings of people or goods.

House GOP leaders had planned to bring Roy’s bill, the Border Safety and Security Act, straight to the House floor in the first two weeks of the new Congress. But after objections from moderates like Gonzales, who called the bill “anti-immigrant” and worried how the provisions would impact asylum, they opted to hold off and work on a larger border package instead.

“This legislation will reflect our on the ground understanding of the challenges facing law enforcement and border communities on the frontlines of this crisis and secures our sovereign borders. There are no quick fixes, and the Committee intends to propose legislation that offers long-term, workable solutions,” said a House Homeland Security Committee GOP aide.

Still, Gonzales, who represents 42 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border, said his party will have to clear any border legislation through him.

“People think I’m gonna buckle and I’m gonna give in. I’m not gonna give in, and you’re never going to out-border me.”

Roy and Gonzales have taken public swipes at each other over the one firm proposal introduced by Republicans to address the border.

Roy contends that the border restrictions proposed in his bill simply amount to enforcement of existing laws, and do not restrict asylum.

“My bill is pretty simple in that you shouldn’t be releasing people into the United States. You got to detain or turn away or use Migrant Protection Protocols in order to stop the flood,” Roy said.

“Stop the flood, Border Patrol can breathe, we can do our job, we can actually take care of people who want an asylum claim, you can manage the beds, you can do what needs to happen at the border to protect migrants and Americans alike. No one can object to that in good faith, in my opinion.”

Gonzales says Roy’s proposal, H.R. 29, would gut the asylum system while failing to resolve border security issues.

“Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party often get it wrong when they focus on illegal immigration. And I’m going to do everything in my power, whether it’s to buck my own party or buck the other party, to be able to say, we have to have real tangible solutions,” Gonzales told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“H.R.29 is a prime example, this Border Safety and Security Act. It does anything but secure the border. So guess what? That bill in particular, it’s dead.”

Proponents of the measure like Roy have pledged to push border reforms through regular order, a common goal for the GOP-led House but one that could also help leadership avoid an embarrassing vote on the floor.

Though any GOP-led border or immigration bill stands a slim chance of getting airtime in the Senate, much less of being signed by President Biden, a push to formally craft legislation could suck the air out of a House with a laundry list of priorities.

In 2017, the last GOP-led House sank weeks of negotiations into a two-lane immigration reform bill, with a Republican proposal competing against a nominally bipartisan one.

Though Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House, neither proposal cleared the House, and Democrats ended up voting en masse against both bills.

GOP House leadership, though, believes that by focusing on border security rather than immigration, they can avoid that fate.

“I will tell you some of the lessons learned when Republicans were last in the majority is we had a huge missed opportunity for those of you that covered the discussions, if you remember – Goodlatte one, Goodlatte two – both of those bills had significant funding for border security, specifically a border wall, but it sort of fell apart when we made it too heavy with the immigration reform aspect,” Republican House Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) said at the GOP retreat last week.

“So we are unified as House Republicans in that we must secure the border before we even touch fixing our broken legal immigration system.”

But the battle lines set in that scuffle endure to this day.

The face off between Roy and Gonzales is at the center of that battle, but the challenge for leadership rests on a majority even smaller than the one that fractured in 2017 and 2018.

Gonzales, who co-chairs the Congressional Hispanic Conference with Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), has said that any GOP group with five or more members has the same power as a group with 100 members — a direct threat to vote with Democrats to derail legislation.

Gonzales said he’s been in contact with GOP leadership, including Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), but warned “it’s a long way to go before they get my support with a border package.”

“If they try to jam them through, they’re gonna fail on the floor, so probably best to get it fixed out ahead of time than see it go down in burning flames on the House floor,” Gonzales said.

“There’s no time for these anti-immigrant, unChristian bills that aren’t gonna go anywhere,” he added.

But the bill’s proponents want to push forward with the bill, hoping their overwhelming majority within the House GOP will sway enough holdouts to pass a bill.

“I look at this as something that is a message to the people that put us here who gave us the gavels; a message to the president. We’re serious about this. It’s the first salvo,” said Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Roy wants to press forward. “Look, I’m ready to roll. Let’s do the bill,” he said.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with [Gonzales] and others,” Roy said. “This is a bill that is supported by virtually everyone in our conference. A handful of people have raised issues. We’re going through regular order, and we’ll see where it goes.”

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