Blow to House GOP Leadership as Border Bill Falters

Ashley Parker

Facing a rebellion among their most conservative ranks, House Republicans were forced Thursday to scuttle an emergency spending measure to address the surge of young Central American migrants at the southern border, in a major embarrassment to the new leadership team.

House Republicans, who have long called for strengthening security at the nation's southern border, are now forced to head home for the five-week August recess with nothing to show for their efforts — something many Republicans fear will be an enormous political liability.

The blow to Speaker John A. Boehner and his new team — including Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, the new majority leader, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the whip — ensures that no legislation to address what both Democrats and Republicans call an urgent humanitarian crisis will reach President Obama's desk before the August break.

"This situation shows the intense concern within our conference — and among the American people — about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws," House Republican leaders said in a statement. "There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries."

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after a press briefing July 31, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Boehner held his weekly news briefing to discuss Republican agenda.
Getty Images

The leaders had hoped to push through a modest $659 million emergency spending measure, well short of the $2.7 billion that Senate Democrats had proposed and the $3.7 billion that President Obama had requested.

But Republican leaders in the House were not able to summon enough support for even their more modest proposal before they head home for a five-week recess.

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The minimalist legislation offered by Mr. Boehner also underscored how the prospects of a broad immigration overhaul — which at the beginning of the 113th Congress looked as if it could be the only real legislative achievement of the session — have ground to a final crushing halt amid more than a year of congressional infighting and dysfunction.

The Senate, meanwhile, seemed unlikely to clear a final procedural hurdle to even vote on its own $2.7 billion immigration bill.

Early in the 113th Congress — fresh off a Republican autopsy report of the 2012 presidential election that said the party had to reach out to Hispanics and other minorities in order to survive — hope ran high for a broad immigration bill, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Unlikely bedfellows, like business and labor and technology officials, as well as religious leaders and farmers, signed on to help.

Read More Forget amnesty; job reform can solve our immigration problem

At the time, a flood of young migrants at the southern border was not even part of the debate.

Sen Hoeven's plan to 'enforce the border'

But despite the efforts by the Senate, which passed a broad immigration overhaul in June 2013, the legislation floundered in the Republican-controlled House. Republican House members, many of whom sit in gerrymandered districts with small Hispanic populations, were unwilling to take a vote in favor of a broad compromise.

The issue became increasingly toxic, ensnaring Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, an author of the Senate immigration bill. Once considered an ideal Republican to lead his party forward on the issue, Mr. Rubio took a hit for his involvement with an immigration overhaul, and has since worked to distance himself from his own legislation.

Now, the crisis at the border has become a vitriolic and partisan proxy fight over the larger immigration bill, which was officially declared dead by even its most ardent supporters this summer. Even the Republican architects of the Senate's immigration bill have said they cannot support a broad immigration overhaul like the one they originally helped draft until the situation at the border is under control.

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The White House has said the president expects to receive recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department by the end of the summer about how Mr. Obama could use his executive authority to make immigration enforcement more humane.

But now the president is also coming under pressure on both sides. Republicans are asserting that they do not trust him to enforce the existing immigration laws and saying that anything else he does would only further poison the debate. Democrats facing tough re-election fights are also urging the administration not to take further executive actions on immigration, warning that it could hurt them back home with voters.

On Thursday, as lawmakers raced to catch planes home, they had little to show for all of their work, other than more finger-pointing.

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"A solution is there on immigration reform — they reject it," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, referring to her Republican colleagues. "Because of their actions with this supplemental bill, they really have no standing to talk about meeting our moral obligation to have a humanitarian solution to the problem at the border."

—By Ashley Parker, The New York Times