Congress

Senate approves border bill; Pelosi and Trump talk compromise

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders are weighing their next move on a border supplemental aid package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 10:35 p.m. | With the Senate’s passage of its version of a border supplemental funding bill Wednesday, and its rejection of the House measure, negotiations between the White House, Senate and House leaders will now attempt to nail down a compromise before Congress leaves for the July Fourth recess.

Several disagreements lie at the heart of Senate and House differences on the two bills. The Senate bill rejected some of the tight restrictions the House included in its measure on the care of migrant children in government custody. The Senate also added in more money than the House for border enforcement agencies and for more immigration judges.

The Senate rejected the House bill, 37-55, and instead attached its own bill as an amendment and sent it back to the House. Three Democratic senators voted against the House bill, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The vote to approve the Senate bill was 84-8. None of the seven Senate Democrats running for president voted; they were preparing for televised debates in Florida. Two Republicans voted against it, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Six Democrats voted against the Senate version, Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Markey, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Ron Wyden and Merkley of Oregon and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Late Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a list of changes that she said the House Rules Committee would report out as an amendment to the Senate bill on Thursday morning.

In a statement, Pelosi listed several demands that center on caring for migrant children, including ensuring higher standards for medical care and nutrition, limiting the number of days a child can spend at an influx facility, providing compensation for organizations and local governments, establishing a migrant processing center program, and requiring accountability and transparency.

The statement came after Pelosi met with various party caucus leaders earlier in the evening amid speculation of whether or not the House could simply vote on the Senate bill.

Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said after the meeting that he doubted that would happen. Pelosi has “been very clear with the president on what needs to be in there for children. And she’s very committed to making sure a lot of the standards that we have in our bill that aren’t in the Senate bill are included.”

California Rep. Judy Chu, however, said the House could “possibly” just take up the Senate bill but that the caucus was still discussing alternatives.

Moderate members of the House Democratic Caucus, particularly vulnerable freshmen, had pressed leadership to bring the Senate version of the bill up for a vote, in light of the strongly bipartisan vote in that chamber,  according to a senior Democratic aide associated with the moderate wing.

 

Earlier in the day, Pelosi told reporters she spoke to President Donald Trump and asked to negotiate differences between the House and Senate bills, and he agreed to have those discussions. She said the House will not just take up and accede to the Senate bill. “There’s some improvement that we think can be reconciled,” Pelosi said.

Trump, speaking to the pool of reporters outside the White House before boarding Marine 1, said he spoke with Pelosi, but he also seemed to side with the Senate bill.

“I spoke with Nancy Pelosi, and we had some conversations having to do with the bill for humanitarian aid at the border for the children,” Trump said. “We’re moving along very well with the bipartisan bill in the Senate, spoke to a lot of people and we’re doing very well, we’re very far along. The House is getting it together with the Senate to get something done. It’s humanitarian aid, it’s very important.”

While the White House didn’t take an official position, one senior administration aide said the Senate bill was clearly preferable.

“The quickest way to address the humanitarian crisis at the border would be for the House of Representatives to pass the Senate humanitarian supplemental right now,” the aide said. “While President Trump is always happy to review ideas from Speaker Pelosi, her late requests are now causing delays that will put lives at risk.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Pelosi is talking to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and hopefully Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an effort to work something out.

“We hope that they’ll take some of the parts of our bill and put it in theirs. And if they do, I think we can pass it,” Hoyer said.

Asked if that could be done by Thursday, Hoyer said, “Hopefully.”

Schumer said he thought a compromise could be worked out.

“I think what [Pelosi] asked for is reasonable,” the New York Democrat said. “They’re basic checks so that [Homeland Security] doesn’t do the kinds of things that no one wants to see them do.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters that the “House will not leave until we resolve the situation at the border. And we’re looking forward to finding common ground with the Senate, as well as with the president.”

GOP support in House

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, whose Appropriations Committee passed its version of the border bill 30-1 earlier in the week with bipartisan support, cautioned against making many changes to the Senate bill.

“We know what our professionals on the front lines need to get a handle on the situation. The only question ... is will the Congress come together and act or fall prey to partisanship, while the crisis escalates further,” the Alabama Republican said.

The Senate’s bill “does not contain any poison pills from either side, which is remarkable,” Shelby said on the floor. “That’s why it gives us the best chance of passing a bill that is badly needed without further delay.”

One Republican House member also cautioned against making many changes to the Senate bill for fear of losing GOP support in the House. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee said he would support the Senate bill in its current form if it comes to the House, but any additions from Schumer might change his support. The House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member lamented further changes to the House bill pushed by progressives. “We’re just kind of stuck. I’m hoping the Senate bill would come over and we would get Republican votes and enough Democratic votes to pass something.”

The Senate bill, at $4.59 billion, is slightly higher than the House’s $4.5 billion. Many Senate Democrats said the bill addressed the concerns they have about the treatment of minors in government facilities.

Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said on the floor Wednesday that “inaction is certainly not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States.”

“No one, Republican or Democrat, is going to get everything they want, including me, and I’m the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee,” Leahy added. “But that’s the nature of compromise. One thing I am not willing to compromise is our American values, and this bill reflects that.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest lobby, came out in favor of the Senate's version of the border bill just before votes were taken.

Before final passage, the Senate rejected a move by Sen. Rand Paul to amend the border bill so that its $4.59 billion would be offset by cuts to the foreign aid budget. The motion to table the Kentucky Republican’s amendment passed 77-15. 

Paul Krawzak, David Lerman, Niels Lesniewski and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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