House Passes Senate Border Bill in Striking Defeat for Pelosi – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Trump a $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package on Thursday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi capitulated to Republicans and Democratic moderates and dropped her insistence on stronger protections for migrant children in overcrowded border shelters.

The vote came after a striking display of Democratic disunity and was a setback for Ms. Pelosi. Until Thursday, she had proved adept at navigating the complexities of a caucus rived by powerful progressive and moderate factions that often work at cross purposes. But their priorities clashed, the liberal flank was vanquished and the speaker — who had put her reputation on the line, calling herself a “lioness” out to protect children as she held out for stronger protections in the migrant facilities that house them — grudgingly had to accept defeat.

The final vote, 305 to 102, included far more Republicans in favor, 176, than Democrats, 129. It left House liberals furious.

“In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill,” Ms. Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers. “As we pass the Senate bill, we will do so with a battle cry as to how we go forward to protect children in a way that truly honors their dignity and worth.”

Her retreat came after Vice President Mike Pence gave Ms. Pelosi private assurances that the administration would abide by some of the restrictions she had sought. They included a requirement to notify lawmakers within 24 hours after the death of a migrant child in government custody, and a 90-day time limit on children spending time in temporary intake facilities, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

[‘Don’t Talk to Her’: We Toured the Troubled Border Station Housing Migrant Children.]

A last-minute revolt by centrist lawmakers ensured the demise of Ms. Pelosi’s efforts to toughen the conditions in the Senate’s $4.6 billion bill. The moderate Democrats had begun to worry about the possibility of leaving Washington on Friday for a weeklong July 4 recess without having cleared the humanitarian aid, and some were balking at a funding reduction for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That left the House floor in chaos, with emotions running high.

Ms. Pelosi was left with little choice but to accept the less restrictive Senate bill, which had passed on a lopsided bipartisan vote this week and would do far less to rein in Mr. Trump’s immigration crackdown.

“We already have our compromise,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on the Senate floor, calling his chamber’s bill “the only game in town.”

CreditWin Mcnamee/Getty Images

Ms. Pelosi resisted bowing to the Senate until the end, maneuvering for days among the competing factions in her ranks to try to find a set of restrictions to rein in Mr. Trump’s immigration crackdown that would satisfy progressives without alienating moderates and lawmakers from Republican-leaning districts.

The final vote badly divided the party, including at its highest levels. The leaders themselves split, with Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader; Representative James E. Clyburn, the whip; and Cheri Bustos, the campaign chief, all supporting the bill. Much of the younger, second tier of leaders — including Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the caucus chairman; Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the assistant speaker; and Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the caucus vice chairwoman — voted “no.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued a blistering statement calling the measure “a betrayal of our American values.”

“This bill — opposed by the Hispanic caucus and nearly 100 Democratic members of the House — will not stop the Trump administration’s chaos and cruelty,” the statement said. “What happened today is unacceptable, and we will not forget this betrayal.”

Liberal Democrats were left fuming. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called the decision “an abdication of power we should refuse to accept.” The Trump administration, she said, “will keep hurting kids if we do.”

Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin and a chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, scathingly singled out the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 23 moderate Democrats and 23 Republicans who lobbied lawmakers to accept the Senate measure, asking on Twitter, “Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus?”

The moderates were livid about the comment, which Representative Max Rose, Democrat of New York, said, “Just speaks to why everyone hates this place.”

Liberal lawmakers were left with a bitter taste, lamenting that a small group of colleagues in their own party had been able to force the majority of Democrats to swallow an outcome they did not want.

“There’s a level of resentment,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona. “We have to assess how we go forward. This is not a death fight between us, but it is certainly something that I think us progressives cannot take for granted.”


CreditIvan Pierre Aguirre for The New York Times

The divisions came to a head when members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and several lawmakers from Republican-leaning districts forced House Democrats to delay a vote to bring up a new version of the measure, which combined the Senate bill with restrictions and rules previously passed by the House. Moderate Democrats had threatened to block that bill by voting against the rule that sets the debate procedures, a show of disloyalty to the leadership that is almost unheard-of under Ms. Pelosi. She was forced to cancel the procedural vote rather than see it defeated.

“They are melting down, in disarray,” crowed Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican.

House Democrats also harshly criticized Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, for joining with Republicans to support an aid package they said contained inadequate limitations on the Trump administration, arguing that his position had undercut their negotiating leverage.

“I blame Senate Democrats first and foremost for putting us in this position,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and a chairwoman of the progressive caucus.

Asked how such a collapse could be avoided in the future, Ms. Jayapal said, “I am looking for a new pharmaceutical drug that builds spines.”

But ultimately, divisions in the House, not differences with the Senate, forced Ms. Pelosi’s hand. Moderate Democrats privately told House Democratic leaders that they were wary of supporting a bill that provided less money for ICE that could later be used against them in their re-election campaigns to portray them as weak on immigration enforcement, according to two lawmakers and several aides familiar with the discussions who described them on the condition of anonymity.

The squabbling grew intense on the House floor on Thursday afternoon, as a scrum of the moderate members huddled in tense discussion about how to proceed. At least one, Representative Abigail Spanberger, Democrat of Virginia, grew visibly emotional and at one point stormed out red-faced, barking at a reporter who tried to interview her: “I do not want to talk!”

The legislation posed a tricky political test for Ms. Pelosi. Liberals, including some Hispanic lawmakers, balked at the bill early in the week because they feared it would only enable Mr. Trump’s harsh immigration tactics by funding the very agencies that have carried them out. They threatened to withhold their votes, insisting on adding new restrictions and stiffer standards for facilities that house for migrant children, as well as more conditions on how the funding would be spent. In the end, almost every Democrat supported the resulting House bill.

But on Thursday, another proposed change, an $81 million cut for ICE, prompted a brush fire on the right of the caucus.


CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

Representative Raul Ruiz of California, a medical doctor who trained in refugee assistance at Harvard and drafted the humanitarian standards supported by many Democrats, said that merely increasing funding for medical care, shelter and other needs would not be enough when a Justice Department lawyer argued in court that Customs and Border Protection may not be required to provide soap and toothbrushes for children in custody.

“This bill will fund a dysfunctional system,” he said. “There are no standards that will force them to comply and be accountable to a basic level of humanitarian treatment and humanitarian needs.”

While the bill would significantly increase the funds available to shelter migrants, he said, “It doesn’t say that an individual should have at least a two-meter-square space; it doesn’t say that temperatures should be kept in a humane range; it doesn’t say that lights and noise should be off between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. so we can respect the sleep of the families which is necessary for health.”

Tragic images of the migrant crisis and details of the horrid conditions migrant families and their children face in overcrowded, squalid detention centers and facilities have intensified the urgency to pass any legislation, but it also hardened some of the Democrats’ resolve to fight for tougher oversight in the bill.

“It’s difficult to see how anyone would object to some protections that would enhance protection of children and transparency,” Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said.

But Republicans argued that the overwhelming bipartisan vote on the Senate bill — and the blunt rejection of the House’s initial legislation — showed that the core bill should be allowed to move forward without changes.

“You’re going down a path that doesn’t ensure a presidential signature,” warned Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee. “Frankly, I have some concerns that even the Senate version meets the definition of what the president will sign.”

The now-jettisoned House changes, released early Thursday, included language ensuring the release of unaccompanied migrant children from temporary facilities after three months and allowing for lawmaker visits to facilities without notice.

It would have toughened health and safety standards for detention centers and other facilities, provided money for a pilot processing program in conjunction with nonprofits and reduced some funding for ICE and other agencies. Customs and Border Protection would have had to establish plans and protocols to deliver medical care, improve nutrition and hygiene, and train personnel to ensure the health and safety of children and adults in custody.