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House Democrats offer changes to woo liberals on border funds

Bipartisan Senate measure moving in that chamber, adding to flux

 House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., talks with reporters before attending a meeting with other House Democrats to discuss potential border bill changes at the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
 House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., talks with reporters before attending a meeting with other House Democrats to discuss potential border bill changes at the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 12:55 p.m. | House Democratic leaders sought to tamp down a rebellion among their party’s left flank Tuesday as they prepared for a floor vote on $4.5 billion in emergency funding for the surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border.

Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey offered a new manager’s amendment aimed at easing the concerns of Progressive Caucus and Hispanic Caucus members over the care of children who are in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. Her amendment would tack on requirements for CBP to develop standards for medical care, nutrition, hygiene and personnel training, as well as a plan to ensure access to translation services for individuals “encountered” by U.S. immigration agencies.

The move followed a late-night meeting Monday in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, where Democrats made clear their irritation with President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

After a party caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Pelosi told reporters the Democrats’ border bill would be on the floor today and that she expects it will pass. “I’m very proud of my members,” she said. “So much work is going into it to have a back and forth so we have the strongest possible bill.”

Pelosi described the measure as “for the children,” saying it three times for emphasis. 

“This is a very strong first step for us, for the children. It’s very exciting,” she said. “This isn’t an immigration bill. … It’s an appropriations bill to meet the needs of our children, so we can move the needs that they have, but also the shame that we should have if they don’t have diapers and toothbrushes and care.”

President Donald Trump would veto the House bill in its current form, even before the changes envisioned in Lowey’s managers amendment. In a statement of administration policy released late Monday, the White House said “the House majority has put forward a partisan bill that underfunds necessary accounts and seeks to take advantage of the current crisis by inserting policy provisions that would make our country less safe.” 

New rules for temporary shelters

In addition to the new requirements imposed on CBP for influx shelters in Lowey’s latest amendment, her changes also seek to toughen standards for conditions at influx shelters by limiting the use of waivers from state standards. The amendment would also limit to 90 days the amount of time unaccompanied children can be held in unlicensed shelters, unless there the Homeland Security secretary certifies there isn’t space in state-licensed facilities. It also would require migrant access to translators.

Democratic unity on the House bill is vital because Republicans have opposed the measure as too restrictive. Though leaders were confident they’d be able to stave off enough defections to pass the bill, some members were still unclear on whether changes they were seeking had made the cut as Tuesday morning.

New York Democrat Adriano Espaillat, the Hispanic Caucus whip, said after the morning caucus meeting he had not yet seen or been briefed on Lowey’s new manager’s amendment. He said he hoped it contained language similar to a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz of California that would prescribe detailed standards for the care of migrants in CBP custody. Part of the problem with the Ruiz bill is that it would constitute legislating on an appropriations bill, which would run afoul of House rules; hence Lowey’s amendment is less prescriptive on DHS.

A senior Democratic aide said Hispanic Caucus members were disappointed they didn’t win inclusion of Ruiz’ bill in its entirety, though they were happy about the provision capping minors’ stay at unlicensed shelters to 90 days. Three other provisions they sought were not included, however: a reduction in the maximum time limit for influx shelters to meet state licensing requirements from 12 months to 10 months; disclosure of all government contracts with private operators of influx shelters; and a requirement that all children with family members in the U.S. be reunited with them in 30 days or less.

Espaillat also said he had problems with the $155 million in the House bill for the U.S. Marshals Service to backfill shortfalls in that agency, which has been criticized on the left over poor standards of care for some asylum seekers in their custody, including pregnant women. 

“The other piece that’s concerning to me is the money that’s going to marshals,” Espaillat said. “Because this is all happening within the content of a threat, whether an empty threat or not by the president, to unleash massive raids in the country. And so I want to make sure that there’s language that says that this [funding] is not going to be used to put the deportation machine on steroids.”

House Appropriations Democrats said the U.S. Marshals service funds were necessary to prevent delays in implementing last year’s landmark criminal justice overhaul. That law, among other things, reduced mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and barred the shackling of pregnant inmates and the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.

Bipartisan support for Senate bill

The Senate version as approved by that chamber’s Appropriations Committee last week on a 30-1 vote, contains slightly more funding at $4.59 billion, including money for the Pentagon and Immigration and Customs Enforcement not included in the House bill. The Senate bill also provides more flexibility to the Department of Health and Human Services to share information with the Department of Homeland Security on potential sponsors for unaccompanied minors in HHS custody, and fewer restrictions on unlicensed “influx” shelters to house children temporarily.

House Appropriations ranking Republican Kay Granger of Texas has submitted the Senate’s bipartisan border supplemental as an amendment to the Rules Committee, though it wasn’t clear if Democratic leaders would allow a vote on it.The House Rules Committee had been scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. to consider what amendments will be allowed during debate, but the meeting was then postponed to an undetermined time. 

“I’ll tell you as the leader on the Republican side, I will vote for the Senate bill,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Tuesday morning.

Even if the measure wins House approval Tuesday, it’s not clear whether there would be enough time to reconcile differences with the Senate before lawmakers leave town at week’s end for the July Fourth recess. The Senate could vote on its bill as early as Tuesday, but Sen. Rand Paul has threatened to hold up a vote unless he wins the right to present an amendment requiring offsetting spending cuts.

In opening remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell upbraided Democrats for delays, rather than his home-state GOP colleague Paul. “There is no reason [passage] shouldn’t happen today. Partisan delays have exacerbated this crisis long enough,” McConnell said on the floor Tuesday. “It’s well past time my Democratic colleagues stop standing in the way and let the Senate get this done.”

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Katherine Tully-McManus and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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