House GOP lays down its border marker as Trump-era migrant policy runs out

Meanwhile, senators are looking for a narrow, bipartisan solution to address the end of Title 42.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill Jan. 10, 2023. (Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images)

House Republicans passed a sweeping border bill Thursday after months of intraparty sniping, a symbolic victory achieved just hours before a Trump-era migrant expulsion policy expires.

The bill is stacked with long-sought GOP priorities, including restarting construction on the border wall and placing new limits on asylum seekers. Republicans still lost two of their own members — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and John Duarte (R-Calif.) — despite days of around-the-clock negotiations that resulted in multiple last-minute changes.

The legislation is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Instead, several senators are focused on trying to find a narrow, bipartisan solution focused on the end of Title 42, a law that permits the U.S. to deny asylum and migration claims for public health reasons.

But Republicans view the ability to pass their larger legislation as a dual political win: a political cudgel they can use to whack Democrats and a showcase of hard-fought unity on a divisive issue. The party’s immigration priorities had sparked weeks of high-profile infighting earlier this year — when lawmakers had to punt more conservative asylum legislation that caused heartburn among some centrists — a storyline that has replayed several times since January as House GOP leaders maneuver around their four-vote margin.

“We all wanted to achieve the same thing, but we started off in very different places,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in an interview Thursday.

But, he added, with Title 42 expiring at midnight Thursday, “today made sense as the right date to do it because more people are focusing on the problem than I’ve seen in a long time. … Here you have Republicans coming together saying there is a way to fix it.”

No Democrats voted for the bill, which they labeled the “Child Deportation Act.” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries argued Republicans wanted to “weaponize and politicize the border as opposed to doing something meaningful about it.”

Thursday’s vote is the end result of months of negotiations that formally restarted in early March.

And they still faced last-minute pushback that sparked a hectic 48 hours of negotiating that at times called into question whether they could pass a bill at all, given their slim majority.

In the final days, agriculture-minded Republicans withheld support for the bill unless leaders walked back language mandating the use of E-Verify, which allows businesses to check employees’ immigration status. To appease those members, the legislation now includes a nonbinding provision that the Department of Homeland Security should “ensure any adverse impact” related to the agriculture sector are “considered and addressed” when implementing the requirements.

And to placate conservatives, GOP leaders changed a deal they had struck with Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) relating to a report about cartels, instead requiring Congress to “commission” a report that would include a national strategy on how to deal with them.

“That’s the numbers game they’re having to play,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) about the last-minute discussions with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Scalise and others. “If they pull something out, that is going to pull other people away.”

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.