Congress

Road ahead: House and Senate seek to pass dueling border funding bills

Defense policy, election security and spending also on the agenda ahead of July Fourth

From right, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Vice Chairman Patrick J. Leahy and Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin huddle Wednesday before the committee marked up a border supplemental package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders in the House and Senate want to approve spending at least $4 billion more to address the influx of migrants and their humanitarian needs at the U.S.-Mexico border before the July Fourth recess.

Bills in the two chambers differ, however, raising doubts about whether there will be a resolution on President Donald Trump’s desk this month. 

The Senate plan is bipartisan, though some Democratic appropriators have expressed concern about it moving to the floor without changes.

“I’m reluctant to provide any funding to this administration, to promulgate this chaos,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Wednesday. “I hope this bill will improve before it is brought to the floor for a vote."

House Democrats’ $4.5 billion emergency spending bill would, like the Senate’s, assist U.S. departments and agencies handling the surge of migrants arriving at the southern border. Both measures also call for more close regulation and supervision over how agencies handle migrants and unaccompanied children.

“There are serious humanitarian needs at the border, and we all recognize the clear need to act,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said in a statement. Republicans in the chamber are expected to largely oppose the bill.

The House measure goes further than the Senate version in prescribing and regulating the care of immigrant children in government custody. It would also provide an additional layer of protection for potential sponsors who want to take unaccompanied children into their homes from themselves being deported if they are undocumented.

The Senate version also differs in that it would grant the Pentagon $145 million to assist with border control and humanitarian assistance operations. The House bill provides no such funds.

The president’s announcement Saturday that he would postpone for two weeks much-publicized Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that were expected to start Sunday in several major cities is sure to be part of the debate as well.

Trump tweeted that the delay was designed to see if Democrats and Republicans can come to a bipartisan deal on handling asylum claims, though that may be a long shot.

“Mr. President, delay is welcome. Time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform. Families belong together,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted in response.

Pentagon, ballot security also on tap

Both chambers have plenty of other work for the pre-recess week.

The Senate is set to formally proceed to the fiscal 2020 Pentagon policy bill Monday evening, then the focus will be on whether senators can come to a unanimous consent agreement to allow votes on any contentious amendments.

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul is making clear that he may block other senators from getting amendment votes if there is no vote on whether to allow the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to expire. That authorization took effect in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Senate Democrats have been stressing their interest in amendments related to military force authorizations, especially given the current tensions with Iran, as well as election security.

For instance, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner wants a vote on an amendment that would mandate presidential campaigns notify the FBI and the Federal Election Commission of attempted election interference.

“President Trump, sitting in the Oval Office, rolled out the welcome mat for Russia, China or any of our other adversaries to interfere in the 2020 election,” the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee said. “So let’s be extra-clear: If a foreign country contacts you to interfere in an U.S. election, you don’t say ‘thank you’ — you call the FBI.”

The House will turn to its version of the defense policy bill after the July Fourth recess, but election security will be front and center before that.

The chamber is set to take up legislation this week that Democrats tout as essential to protecting election systems from foreign interference. The measure, cleared out of the House Administration Committee on Friday along party lines, would require voting systems to have paper ballots.

“In a little over two hundred days, New Hampshire will hold the first primary election of the 2020 election cycle. We must act now,” said California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, the panel’s chairwoman.

Ranking member Rodney Davis said that the requirement to have paper ballots and for states to only purchase election technology from “qualified election infrastructure vendors” designated in the bill are unfunded mandates and federal overreach. The Illinois Republican filed his own election security bill last week.

The House also plans to spend most of its last week in June trying to pass as many of the remaining fiscal 2020 appropriations bills as possible.

Last week, the chamber began debating a five-bill spending package containing the Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD bills. It plans to finish amendments to that package and vote on final passage Tuesday.

More spending bills ahead

The House will then turn to one or two of the remaining three spending bills. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer had wanted the chamber to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June, but he acknowledged Friday during a floor colloquy with Minority Whip Steve Scalise that lawmakers would only get through 10 or 11 before the recess.

The Financial Services measure is on the schedule and the Legislative Branch bill may be added. The latter has been held up by negotiations over whether members should receive a cost-of-living adjustment to their salaries for the first time in a decade.

The Homeland Security appropriations bill will not be on the floor before the recess, Hoyer said after the colloquy Friday.

“Homeland is usually always a very complicated bill from the enforcement and the humanitarian standpoint,” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call a day earlier. “There’s a lot of different views. So it’s tough, and we’re working on it.”

The big hearing in the House is likely to be the Oversight and Reform Committee’s Wednesday examination of violations of the Hatch Act under the Trump administration.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that top White House aide Kellyanne Conway has violated the Hatch Act multiple times by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates during interviews given in her official government capacity. Some Democratic lawmakers have also recently asked the office to investigate whether White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner has violated the Hatch Act.

On Tuesday, the Oversight panel will be focused on a different topic with a hearing on vulnerabilities in the Transportation Security Administration’s operations.

Other House committee hearings on schedule include a Wednesday Homeland Security examination of social media companies’ efforts to counter online terror content and misinformation; a Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee discussion Tuesday on Mexico’s labor laws in relation to the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement; and a joint hearing of two Science, Space, and Technology subcommittees Tuesday on voting technology vulnerabilities.

Markup highlights this week include the Energy and Commerce Committee’s consideration Tuesday of bills to reauthorize several health care programs and the Intelligence Committee’s closed debate Thursday on a new Intelligence Authorization Act.

Camila DeChalus, Kellie Mejdrich and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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