By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ASHLEY PARKER
AUG. 1, 2014
WASHINGTON — House and Senate lawmakers scrambled to leave town on Friday night for a five-week recess, with a failure to address the refugee crisis at the southern border only the latest indignity in a year that may redefine congressional dysfunction.
The 113th Congress this week took another step toward ignominy as one of the least productive, most divided in history. Vocal Republicans were empowered, virtually dictating terms of two House border security bills even after party leaders had spent much of the year trying to marginalize them.
The results were bills with no chance of becoming law, and ones diametrically opposed to the direction party elders had advised Republicans to go after their losses in 2012.
One measure, which passed the House on Friday night in a 223-to-189 vote, would provide $694 million in emergency funds to address the border crisis, expedite the deportation of Central American children and bolster the National Guard’s presence at the Mexican border.
Another would effectively phase out President Obama’s program that offers temporary legal status to unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children. It passed just before 10 p.m., 216 to 192, after a debate that grew testy.
“I was a ‘hell no,’ and now I can be for this bill today,” Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, said earlier. “We completely gutted the bill” that the leaders had written, she said.
In the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has virtually shut down the legislative process rather than subject politically vulnerable Democrats to Republican amendments intended to hurt them in November’s elections — and even Democrats are beginning to chafe.
This week, after Republicans filibustered an election-year measure to end tax deductions for corporations’ moving expenses overseas, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, one of those vulnerable Democrats, said Mr. Reid shared the blame for the measure’s defeat.
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, agreed. “There are a lot of us who are frustrated and don’t mind taking tough votes and think we should take more tough votes,” she said.
In the House this week, the rush to accomplish even a relatively modest piece of legislation had a dramatic air, with closed-door meetings and members being summoned back from the airport as the new Republican leadership team worked to avoid embarrassment. Speaker John A. Boehner was swarmed on the House floor Thursday by angry members of his conference who demanded he keep the House in session for as long as it would take for them to vote on a bill.
Mr. Obama, in a mocking tone during a news conference on Friday, said that House Republicans had made the bill “a little more extreme” so it would pass. He then chided Republicans for voting to sue him for an abuse of his executive authority one day, yet demanding that he assert it the next. “They’re not even trying to solve the problem,” the president said, adding they had offered up “a message bill” in order to “check a box before they’re leaving town tomorrow.”
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The Republican bill also engendered harsh criticism from Hispanic members of Congress who called it cruel to migrant children. That is a sentiment Democrats will try to stoke in the midterm elections, though few Republicans considered vulnerable come from districts with sizable Hispanic populations. The issue could be more potent in the 2016 presidential campaign.
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