House Democrats were just two votes short Thursday night of being able to clear a fiscal 2019 appropriations package without Republican help, while less than half of the GOP conference voted for the bill to avert another government shutdown.
That dynamic may foreshadow battles ahead as the new House Democratic majority will try to exert its influence over government spending while still having to deal with a Republican president and Senate.
By and large, House Democrats only losing 19 of their members on the $333 billion spending package that comprised seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills not signed into law before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year is impressive.
The measure contained just under $1.4 billion in funding for physical border barriers, when most Democrats would have preferred none. And it included more funding for immigration enforcement efforts — in particular beds to detain people apprehended by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — than Democrats wanted.
Items excluded from the measure, such as disaster relief and lost pay for federal contractors who couldn’t work during the 35-day partial government shutdown, also rattled some Democrats.
The final vote may not reflect the gravity of those issues to Democrats — most accepted the bill as a compromise — but they still fell short of a significant marker: being able to adopt the measure without needing Republicans.
When Republicans held the majority, Democrats often prodded them for not being able to pass appropriations bills on their own. So optically and politically, the new majority would have preferred not to have needed GOP help.
With 428 House members present and voting, the threshold for adoption was 215. Democrats had 213 “yes” votes, meaning they needed two of the 87 Republicans that also voted “yes” to ensure the bill advanced.
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the 300 total “yes” votes “quite a remarkable show.”
“I’m not disappointed,” the California Democrat said when asked about needing two Republican votes to adopt the spending package. “We would’ve had the amount of Democrats that we needed — over 200 Democrats.”
Pelosi, however, did appear to be doing some last-minute vote-whipping on the floor to corral more support. Majority Whip James E. Clyburn confirmed that.
“I don’t know what she was trying to do,“ the South Carolina Democrat said when asked if Pelosi was trying to ensure the total support reached 300. “But I told her tonight that I was little concerned about the fact that her whipping had messed up my prediction by two votes.”
Clyburn had predicted there would be 21 Democrats voting “no” instead of 19.
“I congratulated for her being so effective,” he said.
Like Pelosi, Clyburn was not disappointed that Democrats needed Republican votes to adopt the measure.
“Well, we wanted them from the beginning,” he said. “We don’t live by the Hastert rule. We live by the rule of the American people. And the American people would much rather see things done in a bipartisan way than see any partisan vote.”
The Hastert rule, named after former Republican Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, suggests that the majority party shouldn’t bring bills to the floor unless a majority of its members will vote for it. Even after Hastert retired and after his sex abuse scandal came to light, Republicans sought to adhere to that rule during their reign in the majority.
Notably, had House Republicans still been in the majority, they probably wouldn’t have brought this bill to the floor as it was not able to garner support from a majority of their members.
Most of the opposition came from conservatives — there are few centrist Republicans left after their 40-seat net loss in the 2018 midterms — who either opposed the lack of border wall funding or the amount of spending in the deal.
For many conservatives, it was probably a combination of the two. But since the delay over passing the remaining fiscal 2019 bills was about border wall funding — Trump wanted $5.7 billion for a wall, but got $4.3 billion less for physical barriers — that was what most Republicans cried foul about.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise told Roll Call that as recently as Thursday morning he believed Republican “yes” votes would be in the 30s so ending up with 87 was better than expected.
“A lot of people wanted to make sure, one, that the president was going to sign the bill,” the Louisiana Republican said of the initially low estimate. “It obviously achieved some of the things the president wanted, not as much, but at least we’re able to build more wall in more places in this bill and there are no limits on detention beds.”
“It’s one step of many to continue to secure America’s borders,” Scalise added.
Some of the notable “no” votes included members of leadership — Republican Conference Vice Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina, Conference Secretary Jason Smith of Missouri and Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer of Alabama — as well as the ranking members of several committees — Mike Rogers of Homeland Security, Doug Collins of Judiciary, Jim Jordan of Oversight, Sam Graves of Transportation and Infrastructure and Steve Chabot of Small Business.
But probably the most significant Republican to oppose the measure was Georgia Rep. Tom Graves, who served on the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the Homeland Security funding details.
“We’re about to pass a bill that is so inadequate that the president of the United States has got to declare a national emergency,” he said. “It’s not good. And he’s already stated that.”
Democrats who voted ‘no’
The 19 Democratic “no” votes came mostly from members of the Congressional Hispanic and Progressive caucuses, who had issues with the various immigration enforcement provisions in the bill.
“I cannot support giving additional funds to build the President’s border barrier or wall, nor vote to increase enforcement activities by increasing the total base-level funding for detention center beds,” Illinois Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García said in a statement. “Furthermore, the bill does not include appropriate limits on Trump’s deportation and detention forces.”
García was one of 13 Hispanic Caucus members to vote against the bill, most of whom cited similar reasons. Most of those CHC members, including the group’s chairman, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, had written a letter — along with a few of their colleagues who voted for the bill — that warned the conferees those issues were important to them.
Notably three of the CHC members who opposed the bill are also members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition: California Rep. Lou Correa, a coalition co-chair, and Texas Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela.
Some members of the Progressive Caucus, including one of its co-chairs, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, had also raised concerns about immigrant detention and lack of restrictions on ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, which they feel engage in “inhumane” enforcement tactics.
Jayapal had planned to vote “no” because the deal did not do enough to lower the number of beds available to ICE to detain immigrants, or restrict the administration from inflating the number authorized by Congress. But she said Trump’s plan to declare a national emergency to reprogram funds for a border barrier — which the appropriations package did nothing to restrict — only made her opposition greater.
“This is just an end-run around Congress constantly, and we have got to put some limits on how he and the Republicans interact with Congress and how they take our authorizations seriously,” she said.
A total of 15 Progressive Caucus members, several of whom overlap with the aforementioned CHC members, voted against the measure. Seven of those 15 were freshmen.
Four of those progressive freshmen, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, issued a joint statement, saying they opposed the package because “the Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding.”
Another freshmen, Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, had more personal reasons for voting “no.” The El Paso-area representative, whose district sits along the border, said her vote was “a rejection of the underlying motivations about a crisis at our southern border and against furthering an erroneous narrative that portrays the border as a problem.”
“More than anyone, border residents value safety and security, but the border has never been more secure, and our communities have been safe for decades,” she said.
The other “no” votes not already mentioned came from Reps. Yvette Clarke, Adriano Espaillat and Nydia M. Velázquez of New York, Lloyd Doggett and Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas, Jimmy Gomez and Juan Vargas of California and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona.
Velázquez said she voted against the bill because it didn’t include disaster aid for Puerto Rico, while Clarke and Espaillat cited inaction on permanent protections for undocumented immigrants who use the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.
But there might be another concern on the minds of the three New York Democrats — a primary challenge from the left. The New York Times reported Thursday that progressive insurgent groups that helped Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 cycle are now targeting as many as a half-dozen Democratic members who represent districts in and around New York City.