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Ocasio-Cortez joins most Republicans in voting against House Democratic bills to reopen government

House bills headed nowhere in Senate as upper chamber prepares to hold test votes Thursday that are expected to fail

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., center, voted against two Democratic bills to reopen the government Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., center, voted against two Democratic bills to reopen the government Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats passed two more bills Wednesday to reopen the government that most Republicans continued to oppose, but there was one surprise in the otherwise predictable floor proceedings — freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted “no.”

The New York Democrat, a rising star in the progressive wing of the party with a massive social media following, explained her vote on Instagram. 

“Most of our votes are pretty straightforward, but today was a tough/nuanced call,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on her Instagram story showing her walking to House votes with her policy team. “We didn’t vote with the party because one of the spending bills included ICE funding, and our community felt strongly about not funding that.”

Ocasio-Cortez and some other progressives want to defund or eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has supported previous Democratic spending bills that provided funding for the agency. 

The first House vote Wednesday was on a stopgap spending bill to open all shuttered departments through Feb. 28. It would simply extend fiscal 2018 funding to keep those government agencies operating, not provide any new funding for ICE or any other agency.

The vote was rescheduled from last week after Democrats had called up the CR for a voice vote and Republicans failed to request a roll call vote. The GOP voiced objections to the floor proceedings, and while Democrats say they did not err in their management of them, they agreed to hold a recorded vote this week. 

Ultimately the CR passed, 229-184, with support from only six Republicans: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Will Hurd of Texas, Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and John Katko and Elise Stefanik of New York. 

The House on Wednesday also passed, 234-180, a spending package comprised of six bills that members of both parties in the House and Senate negotiated last year. The package provides full fiscal 2019 funding for all non-funded departments other than Homeland Security.  Since it includes no funding for ICE, it’s unclear why Ocasio-Cortez voted against it.

Despite House Republicans’ role in negotiating the bills last year when they held the majority, only 10 Republicans voted for the package. That included the aforementioned six who also voted for the CR, as well as Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Mike Simpson of Idaho, Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon.

Simpson is a senior appropriator who had said previously if Democrats brought the House-Senate negotiated bills to the floor, that he would support them. He is the only one of the 10 Republican “yes” votes who had not supported any of Democrats’ previous bills to reopen the government. 

On Thursday, Democrats are holding a vote on a standalone continuing resolution to reopen DHS through Feb. 28. It is meant to be a compliment to the six-bill package. 

Homeland hangup 

The House has voted on several government funding options over the past several weeks — a variety of short-term stopgaps and full fiscal year funding for the departments that are currently impacted by the shutdown.

The only department the House has yet to vote on full funding for is Homeland Security.

The Senate on Thursday will beat the House to the punch on that as it holds a test vote on the Homeland Security funding proposal President Donald Trump unveiled Saturday.

The package includes $5.7 billion for the border wall and other border security funds Trump has requested, as well as three-year extensions for protections provided to undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs designed to entice Democrats — although it includes some hard-line changes to the immigration system that many Democrats consider poison pills.

That test vote, however, is not expected to draw enough Democratic support to reach the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. Nor is a separate Democratic-backed test vote on a continuing resolution to open shuttered departments through Feb. 8 expected to draw enough Republican support to top 60.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have been talking about laying out their own Homeland Security funding proposal to show how they’d prefer to fund border security. Release of a proposal, whether in the form of a letter or a bill or both, is not imminent, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The proposal will not include funding for the wall, the aide said, but noted the amount of border security funding will be larger than the $1.6 billion the administration initially requested for the wall in its fiscal 2019 budget. The aide declined to provide specific funding numbers since the proposal is still being discussed.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats have already shown some of the border security funding they support in passing the six bill spending package Wednesday. That measure included $1.5 billion for border security matters like increasing the number of immigration judges and improving infrastructure at ports of entries, he said. 

“We are going to be talking about substantial sums of additional moneys to be invested to secure the borders, and it will be a substantial figure,” Hoyer said.  

Hoyer said the details surrounding that additional funding is still being finalized but likely will be outlined in a letter to Trump. 

“The letter is not a negotiation,” he said. “The letter is going to articulate what we believe is an effective investment to accomplish border security.”

Weekend talks?

Congressional leaders in both chambers Wednesday largely declined to speculate on what would happen if the Senate test votes fail, choosing instead to project false optimism about outcomes that were effectively predetermined as part of an agreement reached to bring the measures up for votes. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he hopes the president’s proposal passes in the Senate, but if it does not, congressional leaders should start meeting again to negotiate. 

“I think we should have a scheduled meeting,” the California Republican said. “If for some reason it doesn’t pass in the Senate, we get together all the leadership and we solve this over the weekend.”

The last meeting held between Trump and congressional leaders was Jan. 9, when Trump walked out of the confab after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not support wall funding if he reopened the government for 30 days. Democratic leaders have said they thought that meeting was a “setup.”

Despite that, Hoyer said they’re willing to restart formal talks. 

“We’re prepared to negotiate,” the Maryland Democrat said. “What we’re not prepared to do is be told either you agree with what I agree to or we’re going to keep hostage 800,000 people and the government of the United States of America.”

Hoyer is sending House members home early this week — although originally the chamber was supposed to be on recess all week — announcing last votes will be held Thursday instead of Friday. But he suggested congressional leaders will be around. 

“I’m here,” Hoyer said. “I was here Friday. The speaker was here Friday. We were talking about how we could try to get this done.”

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