Senate passes $600M border security bill

The Senate passed a $600 million border security bill during a rare recess session Thursday, sending it to President Obama for his signature.

Because Republicans and Democrats agreed to pass the legislation by unanimous consent, only two senators attended the short session: Democrats Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate passes resolution honoring victims of Capital Gazette shooting Biden rallies Dem support for progressive Md. governor candidate Dem lawmakers join nationwide protests against Trump immigration policies MORE (Md.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Trump's latest win: More Americans are saying, 'I quit!' MORE (N.Y.). Under Senate rules, only two members must be present to pass a piece of legislation if all other members agree.

But the vote almost didn’t happen. Schumer’s plane from New York was delayed Thursday morning because of the D.C.-area thunderstorms, and he nearly missed the session. That would have left Cardin alone and unable to convene the chamber.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God,’ because I knew usually it takes hours and hours [to fly after weather delays],” Schumer said. “But, miracle of miracles — at 8:25, after an hour of nervousness, we took off, and I got here at five minutes before 10.”

The Senate’s 29-minute session was arranged after the House passed the $600 million bill on Tuesday. The measure, which was introduced by Schumer, raises fees on corporations that use U.S. visa laws to hire foreign workers. According to the Constitution, legislation with such a funding component must originate in the House, forcing the Senate to pass it again Thursday. 

The bill funds 1,500 new border patrol agents and unmanned aerial surveillance drones. President Obama called for the spending as a way to help border states crack down on illegal immigration.

Schumer called the legislation “a smart, tough, and effective $600 million bill that will significantly enhance the security and integrity of our nation’s southern border — which currently lacks the resources needed to fully combat the drug smugglers, gun-runners, human-traffickers, money launderers and other organized criminals that seek to do harm to innocent Americans along our border.”

Immigration has been a hot-button issue in recent months thanks to the passage of a strict border control law in Arizona. The Obama administration is challenging the law in court. 

Schumer and Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick The dishonesty of the deep state The SCOTUS nomination clearly demonstrates that elections have consequences MORE (D-Nev.) said the border security measure is necessary but stressed that a much more comprehensive immigration reform package is needed.

“This morning, the Senate passed a $600 million border security package that will help law enforcement officials in the fight against smuggling and other criminal activities in the border area,” Reid said in a statement after Thursday’s vote. “But I continue to believe that increased enforcement along our borders is only one part of a sound, comprehensive solution to fix our broken immigration system, and more work remains to achieve that ultimate goal.”

Border-state Republicans also said Thursday’s bill is only a first step. Arizona Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRand Paul ‘concerned’ about Kavanaugh Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE and Jon Kyl, for example, issued a joint statement that criticized Democrats for not implementing all of a 10-point border plan they proposed. The McCain-Kyl plan would increase customs inspectors and provide funding for information technology resources.

“The bill that just passed is a start, and we are pleased that it included some of the pieces of our McCain-Kyl 10-point border security plan, including additional unmanned aerial systems and forward operating bases as well as an increase in Border Patrol agents,” McCain and Kyl said. “We have repeatedly called for these additional resources for the border and we’re glad that the Democrats may have finally started to listen.

“However, there are key elements still in need of funding that are critical to our border security. We will keep up the fight and hope that when Congress returns in September, Democrats will end the political gamesmanship and join our effort to do more for states like Arizona.”

The Senate on Thursday also approved a resolution honoring the memory of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who died Monday night in a plane crash in southwest Alaska.

“The Senate has heard with profound sorrow and deep regret the announcement of the death of the Honorable Theodore 'Ted' Fulton Stevens,” the resolution read, in part.

The Senate is not scheduled to reconvene again until Sept. 13.