Runyan says this is why he's leaving Congress

Jon Runyan of S. Jersey: "Why I'm not sticking around."
Jon Runyan of S. Jersey: "Why I'm not sticking around."
Posted: August 02, 2014

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 the 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 to reporters 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, Hurricane Sandy relief, agriculture and food stamp legislation, the October government shutdown - in which a group of 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 stooped under ductwork as he walked through a Capitol basement hallway. "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. Gerlach - who, like Runyan, has decided against seeking another term - said Pennsylvania lawmakers were among those who pressed GOP leadership to delay a recess that was expected to begin Thursday afternoon, and instead work out a vote on something that could get through the House.

"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 told reporters, "Doing nothing is the worst of all worlds." The Lehigh County Republican called the failed vote "extraordinarily frustrating and infuriating," according to the New York Times and the 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 had requested. It was almost certain that the Senate and House would leave without resolving their differences, but most Republicans wanted to take some action to show they were trying to deal with the issue before they went on vacation.

Instead, when a vote on their bill was abruptly canceled Thursday morning, they faced the prospect of 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, a Republican whose district is in Central New Jersey. "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, Patrick Meehan of Delaware County, and Frank LoBiondo of Atlantic County, 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 would get their wish, and what shape any potential legislation would take, was still up in the air by Thursday night. House Republicans, who had planned to begin their recess that afternoon, decided to meet again at 9 a.m. Friday.

For Runyan, it will be at least one more Groundhog Day moment before he leaves.


jtamari@phillynews.com

@JonathanTamari

www.inquirer.com/capitolinq

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