House Democrats reportedly are set to pass an emergency $4.5 billion border funding bill Tuesday evening, setting up a likely clash with the White House and Senate Republicans.
The House vote follows a flurry of intraparty negotiations over the legislation, with leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressing to tamp down a rebellion among members of the Progressive Caucus and Hispanic Caucus, who threatened to withhold their votes over concerns about providing more money to the Trump administration for what they see as cruel immigration policies and horrific treatment of migrant children being held at detention centers.
“We need to stop funding the detention of children under any and all circumstances,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said before going into a closed-door Democratic meeting in the morning, according to The Washington Post. After the meeting, according to the Associated Press, Ocasio-Cortez struck a softer tone, saying, “I oppose the situation we’re in, but my main goal is to keep kids from dying.”
Reports have described inhumane conditions at the border facilities, including inadequate food, water and sanitation as well as lice and flu. President Trump said Tuesday he’s “very concerned” about the conditions at the detention centers, even as he claimed conditions are “much better than they were under President Obama.”
House Democratic leaders offered concessions meant to address the concerns of liberals. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced changes Tuesday morning that would tighten health and safety requirements for the care of migrant children. Leaders reportedly agreed to additional changes sought by progressives later in the day.
At the Tuesday morning meeting, Pelosi reportedly urged her members to support the legislation. “A vote against this bill is a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civilized attitude toward the children,” Pelosi reportedly told her members. She also reportedly argued that passing the legislation would add to the House’s leverage when it comes to negotiating a compromise with the Republican-run Senate.
“This isn’t an immigration bill,” Pelosi told reporters after meeting with her members. “It’s an appropriations bill to meet the needs of our children, so we can move the needs that they have, but also the shame that we should have if they don’t have diapers and toothbrushes and care.”
The votes of Democratic holdouts were crucial because House Republicans opposed the bill, saying it was too restrictive and that they preferred a bipartisan version passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. That bill is expected to get a vote on the Senate floor this week. (Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has reportedly threatened to delay a vote unless he can offer an amendment requiring spending cuts to offset the additional funding.)
Many House Democrats say the Senate version doesn’t do enough to help migrant children.
Even before Lowey’s changes, though, the White House threatened that President Trump would veto the House bill, saying it “underfunds necessary accounts and seeks to take advantage of the current crisis by inserting policy provisions that would make our country less safe.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the care of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border, has warned that it will run out of funds for housing the children at the end of the month. But with only two days left before lawmakers depart for a weeklong July 4th recess, lawmakers have little time for talks to reconcile the two versions of the legislation.
Adding to the turmoil, the acting commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection agency, John Sanders, is resigning effective July 5.
The bottom line: If the House vote passes, it could set up a difficult, high-stakes negotiation with Senate Republicans and the White House. But the Senate version may be more likely to make it to the president’s desk. Progressives may have won policy concessions for now and House Democrats may have avoided an embarrassing defeat, but it’s not clear to what extent the final legislation will address their concerns.