Tensions flare on House floor as Republicans pressure Dems to pass bipartisan border bill
Republicans on Thursday ramped up pressure on House Democrats to pass the Senate version of a $4.5 billion border bill to combat the humanitarian crisis at the southern border before Congress skips town for the July 4 recess, leading to tense scenes on the floor and confusion over what comes next.
The Senate approved its bipartisan bill 84-8 on Wednesday, minutes after it rejected the more liberal House version 55-37. But the bill faces significant hurdles in the House, particularly among the left-wing faction of the Democratic caucus, who fear it doesn’t do enough to prevent money from going to immigration enforcement.
While the Senate version contained some funding for Pentagon assistance to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the House bill contained neither. Republicans had accused Democrats of including “poison pill riders” in there as well, though progressive Democrats called them “guardrails.”
House Democrats are now seeking changes but still deliberating over their next steps. They submitted an amendment to the Senate bill they say would improve care for migrant families and children.
They include measures to ensure the health and safety of those in custody, limit the amount of time unaccompanied minors can spend at an influx shelter to 90 days, and reduce funding for ICE by $81 million. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that House Democrats want the two measures to be merged together in a conference committee.
“We are calling upon the Trump administration and the Senate to engage in an immediate conference to do the best we can for the children before we leave for the 4th of July,” she said. But it is not clear if Congress would have time to combine the bills before the recess.
Republicans appeared in no mood to play ball, and called on House Democrats to pass it in its “clean” form — meaning, pass the Senate bill — noting that the White House has said it would sign the Senate bill in its current form. The White House had threatened to veto the House version.
“The Shelby-Leahy legislation has unified the Appropriations Committee. It has unified the Senate. The administration would sign it into law,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “So all our House colleagues need to do to help the men, women, and children on the border this week is pass this unifying bipartisan bill and send it on to the president.”
The White House said in a statement that “the only ones delaying help for the children are the Democrats” and accused Democrats of having refused to work with Republicans.
“We have already negotiated a broadly supported bipartisan funding bill. It is time for House Democrats to pass the Senate bill and stop delaying funding to deal with this very real humanitarian crisis,” the statement said.
In an astonishing spectacle, dozens of Republicans lined up in the aisles to submit unanimous consent requests to take up the bill — with each one being shut down each time by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas
“This bipartisan bill passed the Senate with 84 votes and it could be sent to the president’s desk for his signature today,” each lawmaker said in turn.
“As the chair has previously advised the unanimous consent request cannot be entertained,” Jackson Lee said after each request.
Heated words were exchanged, with Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., accusing Democrats of having handed control to a small group of far-left lawmakers, and urging them to pass the Senate bill: “Unless you decide you’re going to turn over the gavel to a fragment of your conference to make decisions for you.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., shot back by accusing Republicans of engaging in “antics.”
“These kids that we are here to try and protect deserve more than grandstanding — they deserve medicine, soap and clothing,” he said.
Pressure was increasing on lawmakers amid continued reports of poor and unsanitary conditions at detention centers. The publication of an image of a migrant and his daughter found drowned in the Rio Grande has only fueled the debate nationally.
Republicans, meanwhile, have continued to focus on closing loopholes that encourage migrants to make the perilous journey with children through Central America in order to be released into the U.S. It is those loopholes, they say, that have led to hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving at the border in recent months — many of them family units.
“In addition to aid, Congress must close the catastrophic loopholes that are driving the Crisis,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “We must end incentives for Smuggling Children, Trafficking Women, and Selling Drugs.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.