WASHINGTON -- For Jon Runyan, days like Thursday are exactly why he's leaving Congress after just two terms.
Once again, the South Jersey Republican saw a House vote on a critical issue scuttled by GOP infighting. House conservatives on Thursday morning rebelled against Republican leadership as the GOP tried to pass a measure aimed at addressing the crisis of thousands of undocumented children who have come from Central America to the southern border. The latest insurrection left the GOP facing the politically perilous prospect of leaving Washington for a five-week recess without taking any action on an issue that has been at the national forefront for weeks.
"The unfortunate part and why I’m leaving this place is because we always wait until the last minute to solve it," Runyan said after a hastily-called meeting of House Republicans. "We saw the train come over the horizon two weeks ago, two months ago. Now we’re standing here in front of it, still on the rail."
In the meeting, Republicans agreed to keep working into Friday to try to get a bill through the House, though it wasn't clear what proposal could muster enough GOP support. It was a repeat of several other instances -- the fiscal cliff, superstorm Sandy relief, argiculture and food stamp legislation, the October government shutdown -- in which a group of firm conservatives dismantled Republican leaders' plans to address pressing issues.
"I was frustrated with the whole process, that’s why I’m not sticking around, because here it is again, it’s groundhog day," said Runyan, a former Eagles offensive lineman who ducked under duct-work as he walked through a hallway in the Capitol's basement. "You do it over and over."
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) was among several Philadelphia-area lawmakers who planned to support the bill Thursday morning, only to see the vote canceled. Conservatives wanted tougher language to deal with undocumented immigrant. Gerlach said Pennsylvania lawmakers were among those who surrounded GOP leaders on the House floor and pressed them to delay a recess expected to begin Thursday afternoon so the House could work out a vote on something that could pass.
"My constituents want something done about it. They're sick and tired of having an open border on the southern border," said Gerlach, of Chester County. "While I don’t know that this legislation would be the cure-all for everything, we have to step up to the plate as House members."
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, of Lehigh County, told reporters, "doing nothing is the worst of all worlds." He called the failed vote "extraordinarily frustrating and infuriating," according to the New York Times and Allentown Morning-Call.
Republicans had hoped to pass a bill providing $659 million to address the border crisis, less than the $2.7 billion backed by Senate Democrats and the $3.7 billion President Obama requested. It was almost certain that the Senate and House would leave Washington without resolving their differences, but most Republicans wanted to take some action to show they were trying to deal with the issue before beginning vacations.
Instead, when a vote on their bill was abruptly canceled this morning, it looked like they faced weeks of questions about their inability to act.
"I did not want to leave Washington without voting on an immigration bill," said U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.). "There is a crisis at our southern border and I think the House of Representatives should meet its responsibilities in addressing the crisis by passing legislation."
Other area Republicans, including Runyan, Gerlach, Dent and U.S. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (of Bucks County), Pat Meehan (of Delaware County) and Frank LoBiondo (of Atlantic County, N.J.) also planned to support the bill and were part of the rank-and-file push to force GOP leaders to put something on the floor for a vote.
Whether they get their wish, and what shape any potential legislation takes, is still up in the air. House Republicans, who had planned to begin their recess Thursday afternoon, now plan to meet again at 9 a.m. Friday.
For Runyan, it will be at least one more Groundhog Day moment before he leaves.