Congress

After Democratic divisions, House passes border spending bill

White House has already said president will not sign off on House measure

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had called for a “strong bipartisan vote” on the border supplemental funding package. In the end, only three Republicans voted for the measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After a day heavy with negotiations between House Democratic leaders and more progressive members, the House passed, 230-195, a $4.5 billion supplemental funding measure to address the influx of migrants and children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Four Democrats voted “no” on the bill, all of them freshman women from the party’s progressive wing: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Three Republicans voted for the measure: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.

The bill passed with a manager’s amendment that contains several provisions beefing up protections for migrant children in government custody.

“Every member of this body has a sacred obligation to protect the human rights and the lives of vulnerable families, no matter who they are and from whence they came,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during the debate. “I urge a strong bipartisan vote for the children, the children, the children.”

The largest segment of the bill would provide $2.9 billion for the Health and Human Services Department to continue providing shelter and care for unaccompanied children, who have been arriving at the border in increasingly higher numbers in 2019.

It also would provide nearly $1.5 billion to the Homeland Security Department, $150 million more than in the Senate bill. Some of that money would go to Customs and Border Protection for setting up temporary facilities, providing safe and sanitary shelter and covering basic needs such as blankets, water and food; increase processing capacity of agencies; and provide medical and legal services. The bill also includes $20 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expand the alternatives to detention program.

The bill includes $60 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief to local jurisdictions and nonprofits that have been providing services to families who have been released by immigration authorities.

“Without passage of this bill, the only alternative is the Senate bill, which has insufficient oversight provisions and leaves the door open to further abusive behavior by this administration,” California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard said.

During the debate, House Republicans castigated Democrats for dragging their heels before admitting that the situation on the border was “a crisis.” They lamented that the bill had veered to the left because it did not include additional money for immigration judges or for the investigation of human traffickers.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the bill would make the situation “worse” by preventing information-sharing between HHS and DHS.

“It’s been 56 days, and all the Democrats put together is a sham bill put together in three hours,” the California Republican said. “Are you rushing because you’re afraid that the Senate will actually make law?” he added, referring to a supplemental appropriations bill in the Senate for the border that had bipartisan support.

During the House debate, Rep. Jim McGovern, chairman of the Rules Committee, responded to criticism from Republicans by saying that the crisis the House was discussing Tuesday was not the same as the one that President Donald Trump has been talking about for the last two years, using “hateful and derogatory” language.

“The crisis we’re talking about today is the one the president created — the mistreatment of children in U.S. custody,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. He said none of the provisions in the amendment “were left, right or middle — they are just common sense.”

In the late afternoon, two additional provisions were added to the manager’s amendment to alleviate persistent concerns members of the Progressive and Hispanic caucuses had over the conditions under which kids are held in government custody. A breakthrough came as the day went on when Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal and others negotiated additions that would win over “most” progressives who were hesitant to support the original measure, she said.

Specifically, the new provisions would impose a six-month time limit on HHS-run “temporary influx facilities” within which they have to comply with the Flores agreement, a 1997 court order that sets the standards for how children should be cared for while in government custody. If the contractors don’t meet those standards, they can be replaced. Currently, such facilities are meant to serve in an emergency role, and thus exempt from the Flores agreement altogether.

The other provision would allot $2 million to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for the Immigration Court Helpdesk Program, which provides online services to address the needs of immigrants in removal proceedings.

The manager’s amendment, introduced by House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, also contains language borrowed from a bill sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz that lays out detailed standards for the care of migrants in Customs and Border Protection custody. In recent weeks, the agency has faced strong criticism for the overcrowded conditions and bad hygiene at border facilities that temporarily house children.

Progressives reluctant

Jayapal said Tuesday afternoon that she herself was likely to vote for the bill, but that the latest changes didn’t allay the concerns she and others had about the way the administration would use the newly appropriated funds.

“I’m not doing so with a free heart,” the Washington Democrat said in response to a question about how she would vote. “I’m not doing so believing that this is going to solve the problems. I am doing so because I am willing in the name of these children to see if we can do something to improve these conditions of the border.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who had been undecided earlier in the day, also said Tuesday afternoon he would vote for the bill, although he preferred more of Ruiz’s package to be incorporated.

“If we can save one life — just one child’s life — then it’s worth it,” the New York Democrat said during the debate.

Ocasio-Cortez remained a “no” on the bill despite the tweaks.

“Right now, there’s no good outcome here,” the New York Democrat said Tuesday afternoon when asked if she was comfortable with the new language.

“When you look at the influx of what’s going on, the CBP director just resigned 20 minutes ago. We have no idea what kind of leadership is taking over,” she added, referring to the resignation this week of John Sanders, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Ocasio-Cortez sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee, where she said lawmakers “haven’t been able to get a single document out of CBP, ICE, DHS, of the whereabouts of these kids.”

“They’re not being compliant, they’re not giving us any information to help inform this decision,” she said. “And it’s really hard to just try to decide … if we approve funding, if it’s actually going to go to the places that we need it to go.”

The Senate’s border supplemental bill was approved by that chamber’s Appropriations Committee last week on a 30-1 bipartisan vote, and would spend around $4.59 billion. It includes money for the Defense Department and Homeland Security enforcement agencies not included in the House bill and would places fewer restrictions on unlicensed “influx” shelters to house children. The latter is one of the reasons Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley voted against the bill last week.

The Senate could take up the bill as early as Wednesday, McCarthy said. It remains unclear, however, how the two chambers’ versions of the bill would be reconciled before members of Congress are to disperse for the July Fourth recess.

The White House said Monday — before the manager’s amendments took the bill in an even more leftward direction — that the president would not sign off on the House version of the legislation.

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