House Democrats plan showdown with Senate over border aid

The partisan showdown over a $4.5 billion border aid package rumbled on Thursday morning, as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say MORE (D-Calif.) and House Democrats planned a vote on an amended proposal providing explicit protections to migrant children in the face of opposition from the White House and Senate Republicans.

Negotiators are facing a tight deadline to break the impasse, as Congress is poised to leave Washington at week’s end for a July 4 recess. President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE and Senate Republicans are urging immediate enactment of the upper chamber’s bill — passed Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support — while House liberals are demanding additional language ensuring the administration uses the allotted money to safeguard the children and families crossing the border.

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The debate is squeezing Democratic leaders between progressives demanding stricter standards at migrant holding facilities and a time crunch to reach a deal before funding runs out in early July.

“It’s not about more money,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “It’s about more accountability and standards.”

House Democrats unveiled a set of changes that would amend the Senate’s $4.5 billion package that would provide resources for agencies handling the influx of migrants at the southern border.

Those changes include requiring Customs and Border Protection to establish health standards at holding facilities for migrant children and adults, reporting within 24 hours if a migrant child dies in custody and allowing lawmakers to visit facilities to conduct oversight without required advance notice.

The Senate passed a bipartisan border aid package by a vote of 84-8 on Wednesday, which came a day after House Democrats passed their own bill that includes more restrictions for treatment of migrants at shelters, following reports of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. But the original House-passed bill failed in the Senate, 37-55.

A floor vote is expected Thursday afternoon on House Democrats’ amendment to the Senate bill.

Multiple Democratic leaders repeatedly called the Senate version a “good bill,” but have argued that the House proposal is “better.” 

“The Senate bill is a good bill. But this is a better bill,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week White House prepared to support December CR MORE (D-N.Y.) said.

Pelosi repeatedly would not rule out the possibility of the House ultimately taking up the Senate bill at a press conference on Thursday.

Even as Pelosi spoke from the lectern, the White House issued a statement knocking House Democrats for "delaying help" to the border children and urging them to take up the Senate-passed bill immediately.

"We have already negotiated a broadly supported bipartisan funding bill," the White House said in the statement. "It is time for House Democrats to pass the Senate bill and stop delaying funding to deal with this very real humanitarian crisis."

A senior Democratic aide said Democratic leaders are under pressure to show liberals they’re putting up a good fight, even if they’re ultimately forced to vote on something closer to the Senate bill, which was backed by liberal Senate Democrats.

If the Senate bill does come to the House floor, Democratic leaders will need GOP votes to pass it, the aide said.

 
Pelosi said the sides could easily reach a compromise if they agreed to launch conference negotiations — a route McConnell has so far rejected.
 
"It would only take a few minutes in conference. These issues are not unknown," Pelosi said. "It wouldn't take a long time; but it would make a big difference."

Some Democrats expressed frustration that Senate Democrats didn’t hold the line on the changes they are pursuing and instead essentially sided with McConnell.

“No disrespect to our Senate colleagues, but yes, I wish that they had talked to us and made sure that they had some of the protections in there that we really would have,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressive House Democrat unveils bill to allow state-based 'Medicare for All' Progressives press Democrats to rethink Israel policy Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But with the clock ticking, some centrists like Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a district along the southern border, said they would support the Senate bill and resolve the impasse.

“This is part of the legislative process. We’ll get it done,” Cuellar said.

Updated at 11:58 a.m.