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House GOP leaders lock down votes for border bill after facing rebellion

<i>Samuel Corum/Getty Images</i><br/>The rising sun creeps across the US Capitol dome in November 2022 in Washington
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Samuel Corum/Getty Images
The rising sun creeps across the US Capitol dome in November 2022 in Washington

By Melanie Zanona, Annie Grayer, Lauren Fox and Haley Talbot CNN

House Republican leaders are moving ahead with a vote on their border security bill after agreeing to make last-minute changes to the package in order to win over GOP holdouts.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy huddled with key lawmakers in House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s office on Wednesday afternoon, where they walked members through their concerns and hammered out language designed to address lingering concerns over provisions related to E-verify and Mexican cartels.

Afterward, Republicans left the meeting signaling support for the bill and leadership scheduled a Wednesday evening vote on a rule to govern the bill’s floor debate. Earlier, leadership recessed the floor ahead of the planned rule vote as they worked to find a path forward.

Final passage is scheduled for Thursday — a vote strategically timed to coincide with the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed certain migrants to be turned away at the border.

Republican leaders worked for months to negotiate the border and immigration package, a signature piece of legislation and an issue they ran on in the midterms.

But they were still running into last-minute pockets of opposition on the day before the vote and worked behind the scenes to resolve the impasse.

One issue had been over language that asks the secretary of homeland security to issue a report determining whether Mexican cartels are a “foreign terrorist organization.” Some Republicans are pushing leadership to take it out of the bill, concerned it could create a new “credible fear” claim for asylum seekers.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, told CNN that he knew of at least five Republicans who are “hard no” votes if the provision remains.

“It’s stupid, it’s counterproductive,” Crenshaw said of the foreign terrorist organization language. “That’s what people are rebelling against.”

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds confirmed that leaders will be tweaking the bill to address members’ concern, including an amendment to change the foreign terrorist organization language.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Andrew Clyde said he was a “yes” on the bill after saying his concerns over “foreign terrorist organization” had been addressed, though he did not elaborate further.

Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told CNN he was also among the Republicans pushing for changes to the FTO language, and had communicated his concerns to leadership.

He said he’d be able to support the border bill if the language is removed or changed.

There were also still lingering concerns over a provision in the bill to expand E-verify, a database employers use to verify immigration status. Republicans representing districts with agriculture were worried that without reworking the agricultural visa program, the provision could make it more difficult for rural farmers to find a pipeline of workers.

A handful of Republicans representing agricultural-heavy districts had thought the issue had been resolved with leadership and that the bill would be updated to include language that would study the implications of E-Verify before the program was required. That minor change was supposed to happen in the Rules Commitee, but a source familiar told CNN that some conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus were opposed and the amendment wasn’t added. That caused further heartburn Wednesday as leaders were trying to cement support for the bill.

Democrats are not expected to back the measure, meaning Republicans can only afford to lose four votes.

Rep. Tim Burchett said late Wednesday afternoon he is “leaning favorably” and predicted there are only two remaining Republican holdouts on the issue of E-verify.

GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents a Texas border district, told CNN as he left House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office earlier in the day that he is not sure if he will support the GOP border bill.

“That’s a damn good question,” he told reporters.

Gonzales has been a long holdout on the package but had recently expressed he would support the deal that became the final package.

Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, who represents an agriculture district, said he could get to yes on the bill if there is an amendment requiring a report studying the impacts of the E-verify on the workforce before the provision is implemented.

“We’re still talking about an amendment,” he said. “I think we’re getting really close.”

Later on Wednesday, Newhouse, in a tweet, said that House GOP leadership has committed to addressing his issues on E-verify in the package and will now support the package.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green told CNN he did not think the language of the bill would be changing any further, but in a sign of how in flux negotiations are, he added, “that could change in the next half hour.”

Even though he said he did not know if there is enough support for the package Green projected confidence telling CNN, “what I’m hearing is we are good to go.”

Green said he thought the issues relating to language addressing foreign terrorist organizations were addressed with members in their conference meeting Wednesday morning.

“I think we addressed that in conference this morning to everybody. We brought up how the asylum laws are written now and made pretty clear that it’s a government that has to be oppressing that person or threatening that person and we also put in this language that says nothing in this would construe the asylum is granted because they get named as foreign terrorist organizations,” he added.

The GOP border bill, which is dead on arrival in the Senate, would restart construction of the border wall, increase funding for border agents and upgraded border technology, reinstate the “remain in Mexico” policy, place new restrictions on asylum seekers, and enhance requirements for E-verify.

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