Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and House Republicans used a border trip Wednesday to signal a more aggressive approach on border and migration policy, setting the tone for a January legislative agenda that could be dominated by those issues.
Republicans threw cold water on the slow-going Senate negotiations on migration policy changes and hyped up a coming impeachment effort against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — while a few in the House GOP tease forcing a government shutdown if their border demands are not met.
The GOP border focus comes at the start of an election year, but also as encounters with migrants have hovered at some of their highest levels — as was on display at a House GOP press conference with around 60 members on the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday. A C-SPAN camera captured small groups wading through the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. as Republicans gathered to speak to the press.
Johnson dug in on his insistence that the Senate, which is in the midst of border policy negotiations as a condition of approving supplemental aid to war-torn Ukraine, should take up a House GOP-passed border bill that Democrats have dismissed as a non-starter. The H.R. 2 Secure the Border Act would, in part, limit asylum protections.
“H.R 2 is the necessary ingredient. Why? Because it has provisions that fix each of these problems, and these things work together,” Johnson said at the press conference. “For example, you couldn’t just reform the broken asylum process and allow this parole system to remain broken. It would be a giant loophole that would not solve the issue.”
While the Biden administration has expanded the use of parole powers that allow for the temporary entrance of those who may not otherwise meet immigration requirements, asylum laws require allowing those who pass an initial screening to enter the U.S. to pursue their claim.
Narrowing asylum laws is one of the top demands of GOP senators negotiating with the White House to limit migration.
The stance on H.R. 2 puts Johnson on a collision course with the Senate. Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled that hard line would sink any border deal.
“The only way we’re going to get any of this done is in a bipartisan way. When the House clings to H.R. 2 as the only solution … We’re not going to get a deal,” Schumer said.
“It’s very nice you go to the border, but the way to get something done is work, as we are in the Senate, on a bipartisan solution to the border crisis,” Schumer said. “I hope the Speaker will realize that if he wants to solve the problem on the border.”
Asked in a CNN interview after the press conference if he would accept any kind of compromise from the Senate, Johnson said he was “not going to answer hypotheticals” and renewed his call for President Biden to take executive actions to stem the flow of migrants on the border.
The White House, for its part, said the president has done “everything that he can” without congressional action.
It is not just supplemental Ukraine funding that could be rocked by hard-line stances on the border in the House GOP. With government funding deadlines looming on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, some rabble-rousing Republicans are threatening to force a shutdown over the border.
“No more money for this bureaucracy of his government until you’ve brought this border under control. Shut the border down, or shut the government down,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told Fox News from Eagle Pass on Wednesday.
But Johnson, asked about the possibility of a shutdown, did not go that far.
“We have been working in earnest and in good faith with the Senate and the White House virtually every day through the holiday trying to come to an agreement … And let me tell you what our top two priorities are right now. In summary, we want to get the border closed and secured, first; and we want to make sure that we reduce nondefense discretionary spending,” Johnson said.
But rather than legislation, the biggest activity with a border focus in the House this month could be impeachment. Republicans are pledging to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas starting with a hearing next week.
“The greatest domestic threat to the national security and the safety of the American people is Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas,” House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in the press conference.
Green plans to hold several hearings dedicated to reviewing Mayorkas’s performance ahead of marking up an impeachment resolution that would boot him from office. It will be the first time since the late 1800’s that Congress has seriously mulled removing a cabinet official from their post.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said the House GOP “is wasting valuable time and taxpayer dollars pursuing a baseless political exercise,” and that there “is no valid basis to impeach Secretary Mayorkas.”
Without citing specifics, Green accused Mayorkas of violating court orders and subverting immigration laws.
GOP lawmakers have also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress — accusations largely based on disagreements as members have questioned him on whether the border is secure.
While some Republicans such as Green have claimed Mayorkas is derelict in his duty to manage the border, it’s not clear that is an impeachable offense or even a legal term outside its use in the military.
Republicans have also claimed Mayorkas has violated the law, failing to meet the standards of the Secure Fence Act, which defines operational control of the border as a status in which not a single person or piece of contraband improperly enters the country.
During a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC, Mayorkas said he would cooperate with any impeachment effort but stressed he was staying focused on his work, including Senate negotiations.
“I joined the bipartisan group of senators to work on a legislative solution to a broken immigration system. I was on the Hill yesterday to provide technical advice in those ongoing negotiations. Before I headed to the Hill, I was in the office working on solutions. After my visit to the Hill, I was back in my office, working on solutions,” Mayorkas said.
Al Weaver contributed.
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