(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Friday dismissed efforts by House Republicans to refashion a bill to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, calling it a doomed “message bill” that wouldn’t solve the problem, but would allow them to “check a box” before leaving on vacation.
The president spoke as House Speaker John Boehner huddled behind closed doors with the Republican conference to work several changes into legislation that had been pulled back Thursday because they lacked the votes to pass the measure.
A vote on the revamped $694 million was expected later Friday.
Obama praised Congress for passing bills this week to bolster the Veterans Affairs Administration and finance the transportation fund, but said “big ticket items … are just not getting done.” He cited the immigration bill.
Republican leaders snatched two bills from the floor on Thursday, including an immigration bill, due to insufficient support and delayed the start of a five-week summer recess.
But the president scoffed at Boehner’s efforts to make changes to the immigration bill in order to win the votes of conservative Republicans.
“House Republicans as we speak are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable [immigration] bill,” Obama said and indicated the measure was doomed.
“It won’t pass the Senate and if it did, I would veto it. They know that,” the president said.
Obama called it a “partisan message bill on party lines that won’t solve problems… It’s just so they can check a box before leaving town.”
The new total of the spending measure is $694 million after leaders agreed to increase money for the National Guard by $35 million, doubling the previous total to $70 million, according to a senior Republican aide.
The original package included $334 million for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to increase enforcement, $40 million in repatriation assistance to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and $197 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide temporary housing and humanitarian assistance to unaccompanied alien children and families.
Republicans are also expected to vote on Friday to change the Deferred Action on Child Arrivals program, known as DACA, which defers deportations and provides two-year work visas to some undocumented minors who entered the U.S. prior to 2007.
“If it is what they say it is I think we’re going to have a good conservative bill,” Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, told reporters outside the meeting. “Then the question is do we have the votes to support this bill, and I think we’ll be finding out today.”
After the meeting, two key lawmakers who had initially opposed the legislation, Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, signaled support for the rewritten measures.
“We’re in good shape. I’m a yes,” King, R-Iowa, said. “The president cannot make up immigration law out of his own. He can’t create work permits out of thin air. He’s got to abide by the Constitution.”
“It sends a message to the president to stop violating the constitution, stop ordering ICE to violate the law, and it says to the president, don’t take the risk of trying to expand 5 million illegal people here and give them a legal status,” he added.
Bachmann says she changed her mind after the leadership agreed to incorporate changes that would bar renewals of expiring work permits or the issuance of any new ones.
“We put our concerns on the table,” Bachmann said. “This is a brand new bill. It is a clean, comprehensive DACA bill, which means we are going to be sending a message to the Central American countries…you will be sent back to your country.”
“Today could have been an opportunity for coming together,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Friday. “The Republicans have moved more to the right. Not to the correct, but to the right.”
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Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Shelbie Harris, Idaho State Journal