The White House is meeting growing resistance from both the left and the right as it pushes a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill for the border, raising questions about chances for any action in Congress to address the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing into South Texas.
Democratic opposition is hardening to changing a 2008 anti-trafficking law to allow Central American children to be sent home more quickly, even as Republicans demand such changes as their price for supporting any part of President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion spending request.
"You wanted someone to stand up and say, 'Hey let's talk about reality here, there's nowhere to get this money out of the House of Representatives unless you adjust the law,'" Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said late Wednesday after an Obama administration Senate briefing that appeared to change few minds.
In the briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reiterated support for changing the 2008 law to treat Central American children the same as Mexican youths, who can be turned around at the border without the immigration hearing guaranteed to those from Central America.
Yet Johnson's statement didn't go far enough for Republicans, even as Democrats expressed alarm at such a change. "I'm really opposed to changing that 2008 law," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said as he left the meeting. "I think most of us would not agree with that."
Separately, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus left a meeting with Obama on Wednesday unsure of his position on the legal change. "It was a good meeting, but ... a definitive statement on the status of changing the law? No," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
The White House ambiguity left options open for Congress to come up with the solution, but whether lawmakers would rise to the challenge remained to be seen.
A House Republican working group that wants to send in the National Guard and speed the kids back home was supposed to formally release its recommendations by Wednesday, but that didn't happen. Lawmakers and aides said the proposals were still in the works, with plans to merge them with a pared-back spending bill. It was unclear whether such legislation could pass the House.
Defections from both sides were certain, with some Republicans reluctant to give Obama any money, and with Democrats opposed to policy changes that would return the young people faster. And any bill approved by the GOP-led House might have trouble in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even as time draws short for any action in the few weeks remaining before Congress' annual recess.
Meanwhile the politics around the issue appeared set to get even tougher as a spokeswoman for tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced he would use any legislation to try to repeal a 2-year-old Obama directive that allowed certain immigrants brought here illegally as youths to stay and work in the U.S.
Republicans contend that policy is partly responsible for the current crisis by creating the perception that youths can stay in this country, even though no one arriving now would be eligible. The administration largely disputes that notion.