On the final day before adjourning for August recess, the conference huddled in the basement of the Capitol, hoping to find 218 votes to pass the $659 million measure to beef up border security and care for the thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border. Leaving the meeting, members said they had 215 votes and could possibly vote Friday or later, and scheduled a closed-door caucus meeting for 9 a.m. Friday.
"We stay until we get a vote," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, leaving the meeting.
Conservatives balked at sending any money to the White House, even after the House bill was trimmed to a fraction of the administration's $3.7 billion request and leadership planned to allow a separate vote to prohibit President Obama from using executive actions to expand border relief, meant to sweeten the deal.
Meanwhile, most Democrats refused to support the bill over language that would tweak a 2008 anti-trafficking law to deport children more quickly.
"They pulled the supp," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, upon learning the vote had been canceled Thursday. "They didn't have the votes. It wasn't even bad enough for them. Oh my god, [the bill] was so awful -- thank God. But now we have to do something right."
It was unclear whether any Democrats would break with the party to vote for the bill, or whether GOP leadership would try to fold restrictions on presidential action into the main bill.
House leadership, led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement blaming Obama for creating uncertainty because of his "refusal to faithfully execute our laws."
"This situation shows the intense concern within our conference -- and among the American people -- about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president's refusal to faithfully execute our laws," the statement read. "There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries. For the past month, the House has been engaged in intensive efforts to pass legislation that would compel the president to do his job and ensure it can be done as quickly and compassionately as possible. Through an inclusive process, a border bill was built by listening to members and the American people that has the support not just of a majority of the majority in the House, but most of the House Republican Conference. We will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis and other challenges facing our country."
In a CNN poll released last week, 54 percent of those surveyed said they supported spending several billion dollars to increase the number of officials who process the children and determine if they are eligible to stay, or should be deported.
And other Republicans, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, criticized the House for abdicating responsibility in a crisis, and rank-and-file members of the GOP caucus spoke out to press for a vote.
"While Texas has taken what steps it can to mitigate the damage caused by a porous border, Congress and the president have a duty to address our border security issues without further delay," Perry said, saying it was "beyond belief" the House would leave for recess without a solution. "Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed."
Disappointed that the House pulled the border bill. Hoping they'll change their mind.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 31, 2014
But even if the House passes its bill, the wide gulf between it and the $2.7 billion Senate measure make it increasingly unlikely legislation will make it to the president's desk.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to run out of money by mid-August, and Customs and Border Protection will follow in September.
"If we do not risk this bill today, you're going to risk these resources running out," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., imploring his colleagues to vote and support the measure. "More and more immigrants will continue to flood across the border if you fail to act."