AUSTIN -- Answering letters in his office in downtown Austin, Rep. Roger Williams (R, TX-25) lists the chief concerns he's heard from constituents in his district, which spans all the way to Tarrant County and includes part of Fort Hood.
"It's still about jobs," Williams told KVUE. "It's about job creation. Putting people to work, regulations, getting government off their back. It's still the main thing here, and of course locally, the VA."
Top of mind for many Texans is the crisis of child migrants being smuggled into South Texas. Williams met with local leaders in the Rio Grande Valley in July, and said officials there warned they're running out of money to deal with the influx. After dismissing a $3.7 billion funding request by President Obama, and after weeks of negotiation, the U.S. House passed a $659 million package just hours before heading home for the five-week August recess.
"There was a lot of effort," said Williams. "Frankly, I think it speaks well for us in the House. I mean we stayed to get the job done. We heard what the people on the border wanted to have done. We passed some good legislation, even getting Texas paid for the money they're out on the National Guard and tweaking a 2008 law that gives the Border Patrol more flexibility."
Yet the Senate had already left by the time the measure was passed, effectively stalling any meaningful progress for five weeks. Even when Congress reconvenes, the measure is unlikely to succeed in the upper chamber. Democratic leadership in the Senate had hoped for more funding and is opposed to legislation that would make it easier to deport children seeking refuge in America. The president has also threatened to veto the House bill, and the apparent deadlock virtually guarantees more lengthy wrangling next month as state and federal funds dry up.
"The hang up is is that I think this administration doesn't want to do anything," said Williams, who suggested the president could request Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cut the recess short to allow the process to move forward more quickly. "I think that's what people are tired of. I am tired of it too, and we've got to have a little more harmony and we've got to have a little more cooperation to get things done so people realize that their voice does sound and speak up in Washington."
The money requested by the president and Democrats includes money to increase the number of Border Patrol agents deployed to the Rio Grande Valley, as well as judges and staff to expedite the mandatory legal processing of unaccompanied children smuggled across the border. Both parties agree on the need for border funding, but appear sharply divided over changes to immigration policy. Asked if there is an area of common ground from which a passable measure could be constructed, Williams suggested the measure crafted by House Republicans was it.
"I think the common ground was what we passed before we left," said Williams. "This administration wants to pour money at everything. That was their answer to the VA, and just putting money in something does not work unless you have the ability through people and cooperation to get things done."
While he hasn't heard of any plans to hold migrant children in his district, Williams says it's been difficult to get answers from the federal government. Many local officials are concerned about where and how to deal with any children if they are relocated within Texas' 25 Congressional District. While the confusion and initial lack of information has given rise to fringe beliefs that the wave of children fleeing Central America has been orchestrated by the administration for political reasons, Williams suggests the cause is slightly less nefarious.
"A lot of people think that, but I do know that this administration has really been very poor at communicating with other countries and saying, 'If you come over here you're going back home,'" said Williams, who puts the blame on U.S. immigration policies under President Obama he believes contribute to the belief undocumented immigrants will be allowed to stay. "I don't know if it's by design, but we've had real poor communications and we need to have it addressed so people know if you come to America the right way, you realize the dream. If you don't, you gotta go back home and start over again. We have a way to do that."
Williams says many have also expressed concern over the conflict oversees, in particular in the Middle East. While supporting air strikes against advancing ISIS forces in Iraq, Williams worries the reaction may come as too little, too late. Iraqi Kurds, who have successfully held off ISIS forces around their semi-autonomous region, should receive U.S. weapons and support, but Williams warns the government should take care not to arm the wrong factions. When it comes to the conflict in Gaza, Williams says the U.S. must destroy Hamas and stand with its ally Israel.
"It's a mess," said Williams, who believes the president's foreign policy has weakened America on the international stage. "We need to remember that a strong America means for a stronger world. That America must be the superpower in the world, and if we're not, the world can implode."
Williams plans to attend several town hall events and meetings with constituents and community leaders before returning to Washington in September. When he does, he says his first priorities will include tax reform and ongoing hearings concerning Benghazi and the IRS.
"But I want to talk about jobs," said Williams. "I want to talk about energy. I want to talk about putting people to work. I want to talk about getting a health care that we can all be comfortable with, and of course the military. Having Fort Hood in our district, it has been devastated by this administration. It's been literally hollowed out. I want to begin to get some proper funding in the military. Let these young men and women know we love them and we support them."