Conservatives pitch last-minute border amendment on bill to avert shutdown

Members of the House Freedom Caucus made a last-minute pitch to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to change plans for how to pass a stopgap government funding bill by adding an amendment vote on border and migration policy measures.

Such a move would throw a wrench into the plan to avert a partial shutdown. But a spokesperson for Johnson appeared to beat down the idea.

“The plan has not changed. The House is voting on the stop gap measure tonight to keep the government open,” Johnson spokesperson Raj Shah posted on X in response to the Freedom Caucus push.

Still, leaders of the group had hoped for a change of plans.

“The Speaker is considering it, and he’s working through the mechanics to make sure that … we have the best path forward on how to do it within the legislative process,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the Freedom Caucus, said while leaving Johnson’s office on Thursday.

The meeting came soon after word broke that the House would vote on the “clean” funding extension Thursday afternoon, after the Senate passed it. The lower chamber canceled scheduled votes Friday — the day of the partial government shutdown deadline — ahead of expected snow that could complicate lawmakers’ travel plans.

It also comes as Johnson faces pressure from hard-line conservatives and former President Trump to reject a bipartisan package being crafted in the Senate that would pair some border and migration policy changes with aid to Ukraine.

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The pitched amendment would consist of the H.R. 2 Secure the Border Act that passed the House last year. That bill includes restrictions to the asylum process and restarting construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but the amendment pitched by conservatives would not include mandatory E-Verify provisions that had turned off moderates.

Adding a vote on a border amendment would mean that the House would have to change the timeline and process for passing the stopgap Thursday.

Currently, the expectation is that Johnson will bring the bill up under a fast-track suspension of the rules process, which requires two-thirds of the House for passage and does not allow for amendments. To change that and make an amendment vote in order, House Republicans would have to schedule a last-minute House Rules Committee meeting, and likely use up much more floor time.

The suspension process has been utilized by GOP leadership on stopgap funding measures in the past to get around the threat of conservatives blocking legislation by tanking procedural rule votes.

Good recognized that the amendment may not be adopted if Johnson brings it to the floor for a vote — “if the amendment doesn’t pass, it doesn’t pass” — but it gives Republicans an opportunity to put Democrats on the record on the topic of immigration, which has emerged as a salient issue among voters and a weak spot for President Biden.

Good and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), another Freedom Caucus member, noted that 14 Democrats supported a GOP-led resolution Wednesday denouncing Biden’s “open-border policies,” a rare legislative rebuke of the party’s leader.

“There’s bipartisan consensus in the House that the border invasion is a problem and the president’s policies are causing it and we [need] to change,” he said.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) (Greg Nash)

The stopgap funding bill would extend a current two-tiered Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 funding deadline to March 1 and March 8.

Hard-line conservatives, who have expressed frustration with Johnson’s agreement with Democratic leaders on top-line spending levels, had pressed Johnson to pass a longer stopgap last week in order to try to renegotiate top-line spending provisions. Johnson rejected that strategy.

Good on Thursday, after learning that the border amendment would not get a vote, told The Hill Johnson’s decision was “not surprising,” pointing to previous instances where the Speaker worked with Democrats to pass spending legislation.

“It’s not a, unfortunately, a not a new development,” he added.

“What we’re trying to do is do what’s best for the country, which is to reduce our spending, secure our borders. We’re trying to help him and be a partner with him in doing that,” Good later said. “Unfortunately, to this point, decisions have been made to form a coalition with Democrats on the material legislation that matters to the country.”

Asked if there would be any consequences for Johnson, Good responded: “We’ll see.”

Updated at 4:24 p.m.

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