The House on Thursday passed a Senate version of a border funding bill, which aims to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, following outrage and an outpouring of emotion on the House floor from progressives.
The vote, 305-102, came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reversed her previous call to reconcile the two bills ahead of the July Fourth recess. Pelosi’s announcement marked a reversal from her previous calls to reconcile the two bills to address the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border ahead of the July Fourth recess.
“The children come first. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available,” she wrote in a letter to her caucus earlier Thursday. “Therefore, we will not engage in the same disrespectful behavior that the Senate did in ignoring our priorities. In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”
Speaking shortly after Pelosi’s announcement, Rep. Veronica Escobar became emotional on the House floor as she talked about the photo released earlier this week of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande into the US. The Texas Democrat wiped away a tear at one point during her speech as her voice broke.
The House then held a moment of silence on the floor for all migrants who have died at the border, including the father and child.
The shocking image went viral this week — serving as a grim reminder of the dangerous journey migrants take to get to the United States — and added even more urgency for Republicans and Democrats to make a deal.
On Wednesday, Pelosi signaled that she wouldn’t concede to Senate Republicans. Asked if House Democrats would take up the Senate version of the aid package, Pelosi firmly said, “No.”
Pelosi spoke on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence for nearly an hour Thursday, a senior Democratic aide said, before meeting with her leadership team to brief them.
A source familiar with the matter explained that in exchange for the House taking up the bill, Pence promised administrative changes, including that members would be notified within 24 hours after the death of a child in custody and he agreed to the 90-day time limit on children spending time in an influx facility. The moves can be done by the administration.
Moderates pushed Pelosi
The House unveiled an amendment to the $4.6 billion Senate bill late Wednesday, but Democratic moderates threatened to revolt and kill the latest border spending bill pushed by the House, according to two Democratic sources involved in the effort.
Behind the scenes, moderates were encouraging members of the Blue Dog and Problem Solvers caucuses to vote against a procedural vote that governed floor debate and force Pelosi to pass the bipartisan Senate bill, as the White House and Hill Republicans have been demanding.
Rep. Henry Cuellar said he expected the vote to come as soon as Thursday afternoon but exact timing remains fluid.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan postponed a 4 p.m. EDT news conference that had been scheduled to discuss the border funding bill as it moves through Congress, according to a DHS official.
Asked why he thinks Pelosi ultimately decided to go with the clean bill, he said: “We cannot lead with a game of chicken,” adding the House and Senate can’t go back and forth on something as pressing as this.
Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, says that for him, the growing distress at the border is happening at home. The congressman pulled out his phone and showed reporters images he’d been sent from constituents at the border.
“Listen, I don’t go visit the border. I live at the border. Those men and women who sometimes get demonized. That is wrong. Those are my neighbors and I have their backs,” he said.
Progressives, meanwhile, argued they cannot trust the Trump administration not to divert money for humanitarian aid toward immigration enforcement, and that they need to include more protections as well as higher standards of care.
Escobar, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told CNN earlier Thursday that she’s “deeply saddened” the House will pass the Senate bill, and criticized Republicans for not accepting what she called “moderate provisions.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, went a step further, arguing after a meeting Thursday morning, “Nobody in that room trusts this President. Nobody. So, we have to make sure this money is being used for the children.”
Pelosi grew emotional Thursday after being asked to describe her reaction to the photo of the father and daughter who died at the border. Before answering, she paused for nine seconds while staring down, with both hands on the podium. Then her voice struggled as she started to speak.
“Can you just imagine, the father put the little girl on the shore, to go back to get the mother and the little girl wanted to be with her father. She got back in. And then he couldn’t save her, and then he couldn’t save himself. This is such a tragedy,” Pelosi said.
The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday passed a $4.6 billion bill to address the migrant crisis at the southern border, setting up a clash with House Democrats, who had passed a different version of similar legislation. The Senate bill passed overwhelmingly with an 84-8 vote.
By Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Ashley Killough, CNN