House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill

House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill
© Greg Nash

House Democrats on Wednesday said they will move forward next week with funding legislation that addresses the surge of migrants at the southern border.

Democratic lawmakers say they are close to an agreement — which has been stalled for weeks — in response to the Trump administration’s request for $4.5 billion in emergency funds to help agencies handle the influx of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.


The development came as the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced bipartisan legislation Wednesday in response to the administration’s request. That measure is expected to hit the Senate floor next week.

House Democrats say they intend to advance their own bill next week before lawmakers leave town for the Independence Day recess.

Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Dem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement MORE (D-N.Y.), head of the House Appropriations Committee, said she and her colleagues have "concerns with the Senate bill as currently written."

“We are continuing to work diligently to finalize legislation to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, with a view to bringing a House bill to the floor next week,” Lowey said in a statement.
A Democratic aide said there are concerns regarding protections for migrant children and the inclusion of Defense Department funding in the Senate bill. That measure would provide $145 million to the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army National Guard for their involvement in the border response, including medical assistance and mobile surveillance.

The House is in the process of plowing through its annual spending bills for fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1, but Republicans have been hammering Democrats for weeks of inaction on the president’s emergency request. They argue the money is needed by early July to ensure the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, doesn’t fall short on funding.

“They're literally days away from running out of money to have the funding they need to take care of these young children with serious health issues,” said House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death MORE (R-La.).

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data MORE (D-Md.) said Democrats “don't want to leave here without humanitarian resources to handle what is a humanitarian crisis at the border.” He said Democrats might move forward with their own bill if Republicans can’t get on board.

“There's a crisis, and we need to deal with it. And we want to deal with it,” Hoyer said.


GOP lawmakers have been shown draft text of the bill Democrats intend to put on the floor next week, according to a Democratic aide.

A major sticking point in the House stems from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, where lawmakers are concerned that the bill could end up funding the administration’s deportation policies. Appropriators are trying to assuage those concerns by ensuring the funding can’t be used beyond the purposes of humanitarian aid.

“We should provide the humanitarian assistance necessary to change the conditions along the border, particularly as it relates to immigrant children,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings House chairman: Pompeo not complying with impeachment inquiry Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “But we need to make sure that there are guardrails that are erected so that we do not inadvertently fund the reckless Trump deportation machine. That will be, in my view, our negotiating posture moving forward.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), an Appropriations Committee member who represents a district along the border, said he wants to see $40 million in funding to reimburse state and local governments for care of migrants. The Senate measure calls for $30 million on that front.
He also wants to ensure there’s sufficient funding for immigration judges.
But overall, lawmakers are nearing an agreement, Cuellar said.

“In many ways, I think we're very close,” he said.

The Senate version includes a provision stating the allocated funds can be used only for the provided purpose, a nod to concerns that money could be transferred elsewhere.

It also would ensure that lawmakers can conduct oversight by entering facilities that house unaccompanied migrant children, as long as they coordinate the visit at least two days in advance. That provision came in response to multiple lawmakers over the past 12 months being denied entry when attempting to visit the facilities.

More than half of the funding in the Senate bill would go toward the Office of Refugee Resettlement to care for migrant children, while $1.3 billion would be used for improving conditions and reducing overcrowding at Customs and Border Protection facilities.

The White House request had included $3.3 billion for humanitarian aid to increase shelters and care for unaccompanied migrant children, as well as $1.1 billion for border operations like increasing the number of detention beds.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the legislation a “good faith compromise.”

"This package does not include everything that I would have wanted, it does not include everything that Sen. Leahy would want, but most importantly it does not include poison pills from either parties,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate GOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' MORE (R-Ala.) said at the panel's markup on Wednesday.