WASHINGTON – Congress ran full-tilt into election-year gridlock over immigration Thursday and staggered toward a five-week summer break after failing to agree on legislation to cope with the influx of young immigrants flocking illegally to the United States.
Faring far better, a bipartisan, $16 billion measure to clean up after a scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a second bill to prevent a cutoff in highway funding gained final passage in the Senate and were sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
With lawmakers eager to adjourn, legislation to send Israel $225 million for its Iron Dome missile defense system was blocked, at least initially, by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Three months before midterm elections, the unbreakable dispute over immigration exposed not only enduring disputes between the parties but also differences inside the ranks of House Republicans and among Senate Democrats.
And a new outburst of harsh partisan rhetoric between leading officials in both parties served as yet another reminder that after 18 months in office, the current Congress has little to show for its efforts apart from abysmally low public approval ratings.
House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a nutso scheme of trying to seize on the border crisis to try and grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
Countering, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said blame for failing to fix problems at the border rested with Republicans.
He charged they have refused to provide the necessary resources to deal with what they themselves describe as a serious problem.
Despite Boehner’s accusation, it was Republican unity that cracked first during the day.
A few hours after Boehner spoke, Republicans abruptly canceled a vote on their own border security legislation, a $659 million measure that also would make it easier to deport the children from Central America now flooding into the United States. They did so after a revolt by tea party-aligned GOP lawmakers, some of whom had conferred with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz the night before.
They argued that the leadership’s offer of a vote on a companion bill, even if it were approved, would fall short of reversing a 2012 administration policy under which 500,000 immigrants living in the country illegally have obtained work permits.
A short while later, a $2.7 billion Democratic alternative to ease the crisis at the border perished in the Senate, blocked by Republicans and two Democrats seeking the right to seek changes.
So chaotic was the day that after initially announcing the House had taken its last vote, Republicans abruptly reversed course and announced plans to reconvene today for a possible vote on legislation related to border security and immigration – details yet to be determined.
Asked what would change overnight, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama said of fellow Republicans: I’m hoping some people will grow up.