Swift passage of billions of dollars in emergency aid to help care for tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, many of them children, was in doubt Monday night as House Democrats were facing a possible revolt and a lone Republican senator was holding up action across the Capitol.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made their concerns known to Speaker Nancy Pelosi about their chamber’s $4.5 billion package that leaders wanted to put on the floor Tuesday.
Progressive and Hispanic caucus members were meeting with leadership in Pelosi’s office late Monday on the bill. Leaving the meeting, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján said the plan was to bring the measure up for a vote Tuesday. But that timetable didn’t seem set in stone, and additional changes were being sought to appease wavering Democrats.
Party unity on the supplemental is especially important because the White House issued a veto threat on the House Democrats’ bill Monday evening, and Republicans aren’t expected to support it.
Part of the problem, said Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan, was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he planned to begin Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Though Trump later pulled back and said he’d delay the raids for two weeks, House Democrats are uncertain what he might do next.
“The president’s actions last week obviously have many people nervous and agitated,” Pocan said. “We’ve given some suggestions for changes we’d like to see.” The Wisconsin Democrat described them as “reasonable measures, given what the president’s done.”
Pocan said his caucus is working with the Hispanic Caucus on language its members want added to the bill and is hopeful leadership will give it serious consideration.
“That really is key,” he said. “It’s going to be key to, honestly, potentially whether or not the bill passes.”
Democratic Reps. Raul Ruiz of California and Adriano Espaillat of New York said they were seeking to add provisions from Ruiz’s bill that would place much more restrictive standards on Customs and Border Protection for ensuring the safety of children while they are in its custody.
“We have to continue with the urgency and not kid ourselves that the humanitarian needs will be fulfilled. The items that they will need will be supplied. But the standards that will dictate how to use them in a humane way is yet to come,” Ruiz said.
Some of the uncertainty about changes is because the spending bill may not be the appropriate vehicle for some of the language members are seeking.
“There are some policies that are not germane to a supplemental bill. And people need to understand that, and that is the type of discussion that is happening,” New York Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez said.
Emerging from Pelosi’s office around 10:30 p.m. Monday, House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern said the path forward remained unclear. “I think it’s still a work in progress, let’s put it that way,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.
Later after reconvening the Rules panel briefly, McGovern said changes to the supplemental would be discussed into the night. He said that he hoped some decisions would be reached before the morning, and that he’d schedule another panel meeting for sometime after 10 a.m. Tuesday to consider the border funding measure.
House Democratic leaders have already sought to put numerous restrictions on the use of border funds, especially around the $2.88 billion that would be provided to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The ORR takes custody of unaccompanied children while searching for safe homes to place them with, and the overwhelmed agency will run out of cash in days. Democrats have sought to restrict the office’s flexibility in how to choose to house the children, citing deplorable conditions at certain facilities. They’ve also opposed giving HHS carte blanche to share information with the Department of Homeland Security on potential sponsors for the unaccompanied children, except in cases of those with violent criminal histories or association with human traffickers.
The underlying supplemental bill would require temporary “influx” shelters to come into compliance with the same standards as state-licensed facilities within six months, though additional waivers could be granted every 60 days for a total of 12 months. Children under age 13 couldn’t be placed in unlicensed influx shelters, nor could those who don’t speak English or Spanish, have special needs, are pregnant or parenting or aren’t expected to be quickly placed with a sponsor.
Those provisions and others, including a lack of funding to expand ICE’s detention capacity and a requirement that aid to Northern Triangle countries, previously cut off, would once again flow, were cited in the White House veto statement.
A managers’ amendment from House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, submitted to the Rules Committee on Monday, would further tighten the restrictions. Her amendment would require each 60-day waiver from the state licensing standards to specify which requirements are being waived, and set a 90-day time limit for each child to spend at an unlicensed influx shelter unless the HHS secretary certifies that there isn’t enough space at state-licensed facilities.
It wasn’t clear if Lowey’s fixes would be enough to quell the progressives’ concerns. Pelosi earlier in the evening wouldn’t specifically commit to bringing the measure to the floor before the July Fourth recess.
“That is our plan,” the California Democrat said.
Asked whether they could pass the bill, Pelosi replied: “If we bring the bill to the floor, we will have the votes.”
Late Monday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters Pelosi ought to be bringing members of both parties together to find a solution. Instead, the speaker has “her most hardcore left groups trying to figure out how to jam the president,” the Louisiana Republican said.
‘See what happens’
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said his chamber’s bipartisan version could come to the floor as early as Tuesday afternoon.
“We hope we can pass it and see what happens,” the Alabama Republican said.
But Sen. Rand Paul’s insistence on an amendment to offset the cost of the $4.59 billion border supplemental package may hinder plans to get the bill on the floor Tuesday.
The Kentucky Republican said he won’t fast-track the bill without an amendment to offset the cost of the package with cuts in other programs.
“Any new spending should be offset by cutting spending, because we’re a trillion dollars in the hole annually,” he said. “If they want my consent to speed things up, they can have it, but they’ve got to give me a vote on offsetting the spending with a spending cut somewhere else.”
Even if leaders in both chambers can circumvent objections and pass their separate versions, it’s not clear that House-Senate differences can be resolved before lawmakers leave town for the recess.
Shelby said if whatever versions pass each chamber can be reconciled through pre-conferencing between House and Senate leaders, a drawn-out formal conference committee could be avoided. He said he has not yet begun those discussions with Lowey himself, though Shelby said talks have begun at the staff level.
However, a House Democratic aide said the chamber is “focused on passing the House bill, and there has been no discussion of reconciling bills or pre-conferencing at any level.”
Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.