U.S. House Republicans from Texas target federal funding unless Homeland Security chief is removed

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the opening of the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue at the State Department in Washington on Oct. 13, 2022. (Reuters/Michael A. Mccoy, Reuters/Michael A. Mccoy)

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WASHINGTON — A group of Texas Republicans in Congress vowed Thursday to halt federal funding for the Department of Homeland Security until Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is removed from office.

“Under no circumstances am I going to support any appropriation to the Department of Homeland Security, any continuing resolution at all,” U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, said at a news conference at the Capitol. “I will use every tool at my disposal to thwart giving another dollar to this secretary to leave Texas exposed.”

It’s an amplified threat as Congress works through the funding process to keep the government operating into the next fiscal year. Failure to approve funding could lead to a federal shutdown — an outcome some far-right members have said they are prepared to precipitate.

Mayorkas has long been a target of Republican ire, fielding calls for impeachment over his handling of an increase in migrants arriving at the southern border.

“Any serious person in our country knows this administration doesn’t have operational control of the border,” U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock, said Thursday. “They have failed.”

Roy and Arrington spoke at the news conference with several other Texas Republicans, including Keith Self of McKinney, Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Nathaniel Moran of Tyler and Brian Babin of Woodville. Arrington organized the news conference.

Gooden echoed Roy’s commitment to block appropriations for Homeland Security. Cloud is a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security funding.

Congress goes into a monthlong recess after Friday, leaving only September to pass appropriations legislation before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Congress has failed to pass appropriations legislation for the past 27 years, opting instead to approve continuing resolutions to extend funding and omnibus packages that lump funding together.

Roy’s threat to halt any funding vehicles for Mayorkas’ Homeland Security Department could jeopardize all discretionary federal funding if an omnibus package is offered, potentially positioning the country for a federal shutdown.

The last federal shutdown was in 2018 over then-President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding. Extending 35 days, it was the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus — which includes Roy, Self and Cloud as members — said it will not shy away from another shutdown to rein in federal spending. Far-right members were angered after House Republican leadership negotiated an agreement with the White House to limit future funding to current levels, as opposed to the lower 2022 spending levels.

“We should not fear a government shutdown. Most of what we do up here is bad anyway,” U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-Virginia, said at a Freedom Caucus news conference Wednesday on the appropriations process. “Most of the American people won’t even miss it if the government is shut down temporarily.”

But not everyone in the party was thrilled with the idea. House Republican leaders have been working to balance the concerns of far-right and centrist members to advance appropriations bills before the August recess. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has a personal interest in showing that he can keep an ideologically diverse conference unified.

In the Senate, where the appropriations process has gone far more smoothly, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, disagreed with using federal funding as a bargaining chip to force policy goals, saying “it’s never proven to be particularly effective.”

“My hope is that between the House and the Senate, they’ll work out their differences and we’ll find a way to fund the government and not have to go through this government shutdown drama, which seems to come up way too often,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday.

The Texas House Republicans on Thursday also praised efforts by Gov. Greg Abbott under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar security effort that includes arresting migrants on state trespassing charges. They pushed an untested legal theory that Abbott had the authority to build barriers on the Rio Grande under the U.S. Constitution to defend the state from foreign invasion.

“This is an international border. We don’t talk about it as though it is an international border. We would defend the beaches on our West Coast and our East Coast much more aggressively than we are defending the southern border,” Self said. “Folks, this is not internal police actions. This is defending one of our international borders.”

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to order Texas to remove the floating barriers that were installed earlier this month, arguing that state leaders violated federal law by building in a navigable waterway without federal approval and improperly meddled in the country’s foreign relations. Mexico has protested the barrier as a treaty violation and a safety hazard for migrants.

Arrington introduced a resolution in January that said states have the power to “repel an invasion and defend their citizenry” from drug cartels and paramilitary groups. He introduced a similar resolution in 2021 that was not acted upon.

The barriers, which include large buoys on the Rio Grande and razor wire, quickly drew strong condemnation from Democrats, human rights groups and immigrant rights activists. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper reported orders from superiors to push migrants into the water and deny them drinking water, the Houston Chronicle reported, sparking a state investigation.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, led a letter asking President Joe Biden to investigate Abbott’s tactics, saying they were “creating death traps for migrants and violating U.S. treaty commitments with Mexico.” All 13 Democrats in the Texas delegation signed the letter.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, questioned the Republican effort to oust Mayorkas.

“You can’t claim to care about the border and border security while at the same time saying you’re going to withhold money for border security and the federal personnel who enforce our nation’s laws,” she said.

“Any legislator who says they support Operation Lone Star is saying that they support efforts to push migrant children back into the river, they support horrific instances, like the woman who had a miscarriage while she was stuck in concertina wire, and parents who have lost their children to drowning because of the objects being put in the river,” Escobar added. “So when someone says they support Operation Lone Star, they’re saying that is what they support.”

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