WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion emergency request for the border crisis is too big and the House won't approve it, the chairman of the House committee that controls spending said Friday.
"It's too much money. We don't need it," Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters.
"There are pieces of it that need to be dealt with immediately and that's what we're working on," Rogers said, but when asked whether the House would approve the spending package as-is, he said "no."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday the flood of child immigrants overwhelming officials along the country's border with Mexico could be stopped by sending them back immediately.
"We want to stop the flow," the five-term Republican senator told a gathering in Louisville of county leaders from across Kentucky. "It's really not that complicated. Secure the border, treat the children humanely and return them immediately."
The two Kentucky Republicans' comments underscore the challenges ahead as Obama pushes Congress to approve the money to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors showing up at the U.S. border with Mexico. Many are fleeing gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and are drawn by rumors that once here they could stay.More than 57,000 have come since October, overwhelming Border Patrol facilities in South Texas.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday that U.S. funds devoted to removing immigrants who are in the country illegally will dry up by mid-August if lawmakers don't approve the $3.7 billion emergency budget request.
Additionally, Johnson says Customs and Border Protection, whose agents are responsible for arresting illegal border crossers, will be out of money by mid-September at the "current burn rate" as the agencies deal with a flood of children and families, mostly from Central America, streaming across the U.S. border with Mexico.
Johnson described the dire budget picture during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said the Homeland Security Department "would need to divert significant funds from other critical programs just to maintain operations" if President Barack Obama's emergency spending request isn't approved.
Republicans have said that they won't agree to the spending without significant policy changes to speed the return of the children to their countries, and Rogers' objection to the size of the request adds an additional obstacle.
At the same time, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a news conference Friday to announce it would oppose any efforts to attach legal changes to the spending measure to return the children home more quickly.
"I plan to support the president's budget request but we must make sure that we do not short-circuit justice for the children," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. "They get their day in court as the law mandates."
Obama administration officials have said they, too, support amendments to a 2008 law aimed to help victims of human trafficking that appears to be contributing to the current crisis by ensuring court hearings for the children now arriving from Central America. In practice, that often allows them to stay in this country for years as their case winds its way through the badly backlogged immigration court system, and oftentimes they never show up for their court dates.
Gutierrez said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus would voice their opposition to weakening the law at a meeting with Obama next week. Immigration advocates and liberal Democrats say the changes would result in the children losing legal protections and being returned to harm's way.
Rogers also said that some of the president's request is already included in Congress' regular spending bills for 2015, though the ultimate fate of those measures is unclear and no final action on them is likely until after the November midterm elections.
Together the comments Friday from Gutierrez and Rogers underscore how the White House is caught between powerful political crosscurrents as it tries to tackle the crisis with midterm elections around the corner.