WASHINGTON – The congresswoman called it a “legislative miracle.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., confided to WND that she was just astounded she could go from a “hell no” to a “yes” on a border bill overnight.
And just one day after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had killed his own bill for lack of support, his colleagues passed a $694 million bill to fix the border crisis, supported by both moderates and conservatives, by a vote of 223-to-189.
Bachmann was ecstatic that the original border bill drafted by GOP leaders was “gutted” and in its place was a bill with such strong provisions that she considered it one of the high points of her 8-year career in Congress.
The congresswoman credited the efforts of grassroots voters who “melted the phone lines” on Capitol Hill, demanding a stronger bill, one that would do more to secure the border and discourage illegal immigrants by reducing the prospects for amnesty and asylum. She also thanked WND and other conservative outlets for “letting people know this (original bill) was a fake border security bill.”
She said the new bill actually addresses border security by paying states to put National Guard troops on their border, doubling the funding allotted for that effort from $35 million to $70 million.
The lawmaker predicted the bill could slow down the flow of underage illegal immigrants crossing the border because it would tremendously speed up the processing of children. She said that instead of spending years in the legal system, minors would be held for no more than 14 days.
Bachmann’s dramatic prediction came true, when, despite widespread skepticism in the media about the prospects of the House passing a border bill after Boehner killed his own bill, she told WND on Thursday, “We are going to get to yes. I’m quite confident.”
She also vowed, “Conservatives are on the way to saving this bill.”
And, she was proven right on Friday when the GOP conference announced, seemingly against all odds, members had reached a deal, then the House passed it.
She credited the bill’s strength for its popularity, musing that it was even tougher than what Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., had thought possible.
The bill, will not, however, be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has already adjourned for the August recess after failing to pass a border-fix bill of its own.
Republicans hope the bill will put the onus on Democrats for having done nothing to try to stop the border crisis.
President Obama gave a press conference Friday afternoon in which he blamed conservatives for preventing the House from passing a border bill.
Calling that comment “infantile,” and saying the president’s handler’s must not have told him that House members worked late into the night to come up with a plan, Bachmann pointed out Obama had it exactly backwards: It was the Senate that failed to pass a border-fix bill.
She drily added, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was now powerless to match the GOP’s move, having already sent his colleagues home.
Obama also reiterated his threat to bypass Congress, claiming, “I’m going to have to act alone (on the border crisis) because we’ve run out of money.”
Bachmann said the House bill puts Obama on notice that he had better not act alone to extend amnesty.
She said the bill, in facts, answers Obama’s challenge to Congress that, unless they did something, “he would act alone, lawlessly, to grant work permits to 5-to-6 million illegal foreign nationals.”
“We have taken the strongest possible action, legislatively, to stop him. We’ve put the president on notice by saying, ‘You better not issue these work permits because we’ve said no. You better not try it, Mr. President. We’ve made your illegal activity, illegal.’ That’s huge.”
She said the amnesty issue is “like a hot potato” that has landed in Harry Reid’s lap, now that the House has taken action.
That’s because, Bachmann observed, if Obama does extend amnesty, the focus then shifts to Reid and the Senate: “Are they going to stand with the American people or are they going to stand with illegal foreign nationals?”
Bachmann said the president has already made his choice: “He is backing illegal foreign nationals, not the American people.”
With this bill, she maintained, the House had voted with the American people.
Conservatives were concerned the bill originally proposed by GOP House leaders did nothing to try to prevent Obama from acting alone to extend amnesty and did little to stem the recent flood of illegal immigrants across the border.
The new plan tries to prevent the president from extending amnesty through executive order by neutralizing the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, or DACA, policy the president used to grant asylum to more than half-a-million illegal immigrants who arrived in the county as minors.
A separate bill to overturn DACA was approved by a vote of 216-to-192, with 4 Democrats voting for it.
Republicans say DACA has acted as a magnet for young illegal immigrants who believe they will receive amnesty after entering the U.S.
The president of Honduras has conceded that “a lack of clarity” in U.S. immigration law has, in fact, caused his citizens to make the dangerous trek north to cross the border.
The numbers indicate that is true for particularly unaccompanied children, sent north by their families or seeking to join relatives in the states.
According to the Department of Health and Human services, the number of unaccompanied underage illegal immigrants crossing the border went from 6,560 in 2011, to 13,625 in the fiscal year after after Obama unilaterally imposed DACA on June, 15 2012. Since October, there have been 57,500. Officials expect that number to jump to more than 150,000 in the next tally.
Some conservative fear that DACA, in addition to it’s apparent power as a magnet for illegal immigrants, may be used by Obama to expand amnesty to 5-to-6 million foreign nationals already in the country illegally, possibly by merely eliminating the age requirement.
In another approach to stemming the flow of underage illegal immigrants streaming across the border, the main bill revises the 2008 Wilberforce law, which was intended to stop sex trafficking of minors, but has been used to give asylum to illegal immigrants from Central America.
The bill would also give hundreds of millions of dollars to immigration agencies to shelter illegal immigrant children.
Bachmann said fellow conservatives were extremely happy with the language in the bills and said it spoke volumes that moderates approved it, too.
She indicated that moderates would approve of more conservative ideas if House leadership would give them a hearing more often.
Bachmann said a side benefit of the late-night negotiations between conservatives and House leaders that led to the bill was that it could become a model for GOP leadership to follow in dealing with her colleagues.
“First of all, listen to us. Don’t jam deficient bills down our throat at the last minute.”
She added, “Leadership was really willing to listen to the conservatives. So, when we went into the room with leadership and very matter-of-factly, in a very civil, adult way listed what our concerns were, it was very easy for the leadership to see that conservatives are people who can be worked with.
“We were not making unreasonable demands. We wanted to make this a real bill that would work. They listened to our concerns, and from then on, it was all like hand-in-glove. It was hard for them to say no because the suggestions made too much sense.”
She said from there, everything came together and they rapidly reached a series of agreements on key issues.
At the start of Thursday, conservatives had little hope their revisions would be included in any border bill.
In fact, Bachmann told WND there was “a tremendous sense of foreboding” Thursday morning before the scheduled vote on Boehner’s plan to fix the border crisis.
Conservatives thought Boehner’s plan would do much more harm than good but felt helpless.
“We thought, ‘Oh man, they’ve got the votes.’ Everybody did. They looked really confident, they didn’t seem like they were breaking a sweat,” said the congresswoman.
But then, something totally unexpected suddenly flipped the script from despair to optimism.
In a moment that might remind one of a scene from a Frank Capra film, the American people suddenly had their say.
By calling Congress from across the nation, an untold number of ordinary Americans let their voices be heard loud and clear, melting down the phone lines on Capitol Hill.
Perhaps intent upon reminding President Obama that he is not the only one with a phone and a pen, callers let rank-and-file Republicans know they wanted a fix to the border crisis that had some teeth.
And suddenly, it was the moderates who were leading the charge and demanding change, not the conservatives.
Also suddenly, the GOP may be uniting around a plan on what to do about the crisis on the border, in which almost 60,000 underage illegal immigrants have arrived in recent weeks, mostly from Central America. That is out of a total of 300,000 immigrants who have illegally crossed the border in less than a year.
After the voters’ mammoth display of grassroots power, leading conservatives sat down with representatives of the House leadership to hammer out the outline of a plan that GOP lawmakers then debated Friday.
Bachmann was very optimistic, calling the bill a “stunning turnaround” and “a huge victory for the conservatives in Congress.”
She also called it a huge victory for the American people, who “saved Congress from itself” by melting down those phone lines.
She also called immigration the most consequential issue Congress faces this term.
Coming straight out of that crucial meeting with House leaders, Bachmann described to WND how prospects had changed so dramatically over the course of the preceding few hours.
Despite conservatives’ certainty that the House leaders had the votes, they learned otherwise when Boehner shelved his bill.
And they learned what had caused the sudden change in fortunes, once Boehner summoned House Republicans to a special conference meeting at 3 p.m.
Something very unusual happened at that meeting, according to Bachmann.
“It was the ‘yes’ people (those favoring the bill) who went to the microphones. Usually it is the ‘no’ people, the conservatives, because we are trying to pull them in our direction.”
She said it was very uncommon to have more of the moderates than conservatives line up to address the group.
Although the moderates began by castigating the “vote no” people to pass the bill, once everyone had their say, a consensus emerged.
“Rather than beating up on the ‘vote no’ people, the ‘vote no’ people had to get together with leadership and explain what it would take to get our votes,” Bachmann said.
“And that’s what we did tonight. We sat down and had a very civil, productive conversation. We laid out what our concerns were.”
Bachmann told WND how she and her fellow conservatives expressed concerns on three main topics, the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals policy, the 2008 Wilberforce law and asylum.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is the policy Obama unilaterally imposed by executive order on June 15, 2012, after Congress refused to pass the DREAM Act. It gives amnesty to many illegal aliens who arrived in the country as minors. Conservatives are concerned Obama will now extend amnesty to as many as 6 million more illegal immigrants by merely issuing an executive order eliminating the age requirement for DACA.
“We were concerned about the language in the changes to DACA proposal. It was muddied and not clear. We told them if they clean up the DACA language, we can go for it,” said Bachmann.
She noted that a bill from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to eliminate DACA had passed in the House in the previous term and that since King was satisfied with the assurances of the leader’s representatives, his fellow conservatives were, too.
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was designed to protect Central American children from sex trafficking, but conservatives believe it is being used to make it significantly harder to return underage illegal immigrants to their home countries.
“We needed to change the language in the reform to the 2008 Wilberforce bill. We decided to adopt the Carter-Aderholt language and the representatives from leadership were okay with that.”
Bachmann was referring to the Protection of Children Act of 2014 sponsored by Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, and Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., which aims to streamline the process of returning children to their homes, and reads, in part:
This legislation closes a loophole used by human smugglers to exploit the anti-human trafficking law amended in 2008 that was designed to deal with illegal child labor and sex trafficking. The legislation allows for all unaccompanied children, regardless of what country they are from, to be treated the same under the law and to be reunited with their families in their home country.
The congresswoman said the changes would “speed up the process so that the kids don’t end up with DHS, but stay near the border, and it doesn’t go on and on forever.”
“The changes would treat all the kids the same, whether from Mexico or Central America. And all the money doesn’t go to HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services). It actually goes to deportation. That’s what we wanted. That was excellent.”
Bachmann said conservatives believe it is too easy to get asylum, and they offered recommendations on tightening up the language addressing the issue.
She added: “One thing we don’t want to do is cut off people like the Chaldeans in Iraq, or the Copts in Egypt, the Christians who really are at risk. There is a lot of persecution of Christians across the world. And, we do not want to stop anyone who is suffering persecution, regardless of their religion. We want them to be able to apply for asylum.
“That’s what the law was meant for. What we don’t want to have is the law cheapened and abused by people who claim asylum who really don’t need it,” she said.
Bachmann said the heart of any bill that might emerge was really contained in the first two issues.
“These look like things that we can probably work out with leadership. Their representatives weren’t guaranteeing it, because they have to run it by other members. But I think we did pretty well.”
She noted that King had said they were close to getting what they wanted.
“And if we can get this done, I am a ‘yes.’ We went around the room and everyone was pretty much a ‘yes.’”
Bachmann said there was no question it was the power of the grassroots pressure on moderates that forced leadership and conservatives back to the bargaining table.
“People melting the phone lines really saved members from themselves. This was a very, very, very good thing that happened today. I am thrilled with what happened,” she reflected.
Bachmann said if moderate members had gone home in August thinking they did something constructive by passing Boehner’s original bill, they would have been in for a rude shock from voters.
“People back home weren’t saying ‘do anything,’ they were saying ‘do the right thing.’ Actually do something that’s going to stop this (border crisis).”
And that’s why, she said, a number of her colleagues could not support the bill as it was originally written.
“People are smart enough, and today, with Internet newspapers and magazines, social media and talk radio, there are so many information sources out there, the (GOP party) base is not going to be insulted with false information.”
She added: “You have to be able to tell the base that either you are doing something to address the issue, or you aren’t. They’re going to find out. The truth is going to catch up with you.”
Bachmann said even the tea party class that entered in 2010 didn’t quite appreciate the power of the grassroots.
She said she has never seen the phone lines light up like they did when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was pushing his amnesty bill in 2007.
“Several times I’ve told them, I lived through it. And I lived through Obamacare. I know what it was like in my office when the phone lines melted. As much as people hated Obamacare, and that’s why a lot of you are here, the opposition to the immigration bill was even more passionate.”
“I don’t think our members, even some tea partiers, quite understood the depth of feelings people have about this issue.”
Bachmann said there was one other issue conservatives wanted to address in any border bill: the money.
“The bill was a little too rich ($659 million) in the amount of money it would give to Obama. So, we discussed that.”
Also, she noted the bill currently would be paid for by taking money from some of the foreign aid that goes to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“We asked that even more money is taken from that aid, and I pushed very hard that we also take it from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Because that’s a two-fer. After all, Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization, and they are bombing the smithereens out of our ally Israel.”
Bachmann was passionate on this point.
“If nothing else, symbolically, if we pull a million dollars, just a million from the Palestinian Authority, we will get a billion dollars worth of benefits in the form of a strong message sent to the world that we stand with our ally Israel and we are not happy about the more than 2,500 rockets that Haas has fired at Israel.”
She said the United States needs to send a strong signal but has been remiss.
“I was extremely adamant about that. I pointed to the speaker’s representative and said, ‘Just ask other members about the phone calls they are getting,’” asking that no more money be spent supporting Hamas.
She concluded: “I said if we pull the president away from supporting Hamas, that will help us back home with our constituents. Because people would love to see us do something to send a signal to Hamas that what they are doing is wrong.”
Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth