Congress

Senate border bill faces hurdles

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said he has not received assurances from the White House that President Donald Trump would support a bipartisan Senate bill providing humanitarian assistance at the southern border. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans on both sides of the Capitol are generally unified in support of the Senate’s $4.59 billion supplemental relief bill for border agencies strained by record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border.

There’s just one problem: It’s not fully clear that President Donald Trump would sign the bipartisan measure, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 30-1 vote last Wednesday.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama Republican who is chairman of Senate Appropriations, said he hadn’t received assurances that Trump would back his bill. White House officials wouldn’t comment on the administration’s position on the Senate bill.

The Office of Management and Budget hasn’t issued a formal Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate version, though its veto threat statement on the $4.5 billion House border bill takes issue with a lack of funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds in both measures.

“The administration is disappointed that neither the House nor Senate bills include necessary funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention,” the OMB statement on the House bill said. “By opposing detention beds — where illegal migrants are placed pending their removal — Democrat lawmakers are declaring their belief that illegal immigrants, including those who skip court hearings or commit additional crimes, should be allowed to remain in our country indefinitely. The ideological aversion to our nation’s interior immigration enforcement agency must stop.”

In the administration’s initial supplemental request submitted May 1, the White House sought $342 million for ICE detention bed capacity, in order to increase adult beds by roughly 10,000 above the current fiscal 2019 baseline of 42,774, and add 960 family beds above the current 2,500. The new family beds would be placed at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, run by private prison operator CoreCivic.

In the fiscal 2019 omnibus spending law, Democrats in both chambers fought to try to reduce the average daily population detained in ICE facilities, and opposed giving ICE any more money for bed space in the supplemental.

While the OMB statement on the House bill blames “Democrat lawmakers” for zeroing out ICE funds in the White House request, the Senate bill was negotiated in bipartisan fashion and introduced by Shelby with strong GOP support.

On the House side, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday said he’d vote for the Senate bill, and House Appropriations ranking Republican Kay Granger of Texas asked the Rules Committee to allow her to offer the Senate bill as an amendment during House floor debate.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t clear when the Senate would actually be able to take up its version of the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber might not be able to act until Friday, since Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wanted to allow presidential candidates in his caucus to return from their debates in Miami on Wednesday and Thursday. Schumer was vague on the timing, however, telling reporters, “I think we can do both.”

Additionally, GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was insisting on a vote on his amendment to fully offset the emergency border funds with cuts to foreign aid programs. He said he’d be able to erect procedural roadblocks to delay a vote until after next week’s recess, which would endanger funds the Department of Health and Human Services says it needs to ensure adequate care for migrant children in custody.

House support grows

Across the Capitol, House Democrats had difficulty on Tuesday shoring up support among their own ranks for their $4.5 billion package.

Among other concerns, liberal lawmakers and Hispanic Caucus members wanted to see more restrictions on standards for holding children in custody, and expressed concerns over funding for the U.S. Marshals Service, which has been detaining illegal immigrants accused of crimes.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal said she and others negotiated an addition to the bill that she thought would win over “most” caucus members that were hesitant to support the original measure.

The change would spell out specific conditions that unlicensed, for-profit facilities have to meet that cannot be waived, such as providing food and water and basic medical resources, the Washington Democrat said. “If they still aren’t meeting those conditions in six months, their contract is terminated. They cannot reapply for the contract, and then the contract will then be rebid to another agency.”

Jayapal signaled her support for the bill because that change “is substantial,” but noted she’s still concerned about lack of accountability for the Trump administration in not following Congress’ appropriations policies.

Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, who had been undecided earlier in the day, also on Tuesday signaled his support for the bill.

“We will get it done,” said Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar.

Still, there were pockets of resistance among House Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said she wasn’t comfortable with the emerging compromise bill. “Right now, there’s no good outcome here. And I think that certainly feels like we have to choose between two bad decisions,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

After a contentious hour of debate on the rule for the measure, the House adopted the rule 225-189, for the supplemental. At press time, the chamber was working toward a vote on final passage of the measure. 

Tanvi Misra, Kellie Mejdrich, Camila DeChalus and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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