In yet another sign that Congress will leave town next week without addressing the influx of young migrants at the southern border, a senior White House official acknowledged there are major doubts that lawmakers will approve President Barack Obama’s request for emergency funding to deal with the crisis.
“Alarming if Congress leaves for the August recess without acting,” the official told reporters ahead of the visit of three Central American presidents to the White House on Friday.
The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, conceded that demands, mainly from Republicans, to change immigration policy enacted in a 2008 law could scuttle efforts to pass Obama’s $3.7 billion funding bill by the end of next week, when members of Congress leave Washington until after Labor Day.
The law entices unaccompanied minors from Central America by granting special legal status in U.S. immigration courts.
“If it is an impediment to getting resources, then that is a problem,” the official said of calls to change the 2008 law.
House Speaker John Boehner called on Obama to get more engaged.
“This is a problem of the President’s own making. And then he tries to say he wants to solve the problem so that we can stop this influx, but then he changes his mind,” he said Thursday. “We’ve got a President that’s AWOL. And the President ought to get engaged in this if he actually wants something to happen.”
The 2008 law was an effort to combat human trafficking. A leading bipartisan proposal to change it, advanced by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, is not supported by the administration, a senior White House official said.
Making things more complicated is resistance by congressional Democrats to changing the law.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored it, said she’s received draft language from the administration with suggested changes. She said she’s looking at them but doubts there’s any way they can happen before the recess.
“This bill is very complicated and we have to know what we’re doing and I think the important thing is to get the supplemental,” the California Democrat said.
As for House Republicans who signal they won’t pass any bill until the law is changed, Feinstein cautioned, “I think that’s a big mistake,” noting there is also money in the bill to battle wildfires in the West.
Sen. Richard Durbin, one of many powerful Democratic opponents of changing the law, said that the Senate Democratic caucus was at first split on the issue but now the “overwhelming majority” thinks it would be a mistake to make changes.
Asked if the administration is pushing aggressively, if at all anymore, to make the changes that they say they want, Durbin pointed to the draft changes that Feinstein received.
“Many of us are very wary of that,” he said. “First we think the President has all the authority he needs, number one, and number two, when the door is cracked open we think Cornyn and Cuellar and (Ted) Cruz and the whole gang of anti-immigrant opponents are going to walk through it.”
Other senior White House officials said Obama will encourage the Central American leaders from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to do more to disrupt human smuggling networks in their countries.
The presidents of those countries are seeking financial assistance in return. But that money could also be in jeopardy as officials at the briefing noted the supplemental bill offers $295 million to Central America to deal with the crisis.