Moderate Democrats threaten to block liberal-backed border bill

Centrist Democrats said Thursday they have the votes to block an emergency border funding bill favored by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (D-Calif.) and liberals in the caucus.

The moderate Democrats are wary that the partisan standoff over new language to protect migrant children — language demanded by liberals — will sink negotiations and force vulnerable lawmakers to go home to face voters outraged over the escalating humanitarian crisis on the southern border.


Since Wednesday, when the Senate passed a $4.6 billion border bill with overwhelming bipartisan support, swing-district Democrats — a group known as "front-liners" — have joined forces with other moderate lawmakers to press Pelosi and party leaders to bring that legislation to the House floor.

Pelosi has so far refused, siding with the liberal wing of the party in demanding additional language providing for the explicit protection of the migrant children. Democrats had planned to vote on their amended bill Thursday afternoon.

Hours before the vote, however, Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerOmar feuds with Jewish Democrats House moderates unveil .25T infrastructure plan Democrats debate shape of new Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-N.J.), a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told Pelosi that's he has rallied enough moderate Democrats to take down the rule on the amended House bill, according to a source familiar with that exchange.

“There’s a feeling we’re going 2 end up with the Senate bill anyway so let’s just get on w/ it,” the source said in a text message to The Hill.

The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

The threatened opposition caused Democratic leaders to yank their rule from the floor, while party leaders huddled in Pelosi's office in search of a path forward.

Pelosi has called for Senate GOP leaders to sit down for conference negotiations in search of a compromise between the competing versions of the emergency border legislation. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Manchin opens door to supporting scaled-down election reform bill Pelosi, Schumer must appoint new commissioners to the CARES Act oversight panel MORE (R-Ky.) has refused to do so, insisting the House take up the Senate bill as is. 

And an increasing number of moderate Democrats are siding with McConnell.

"Children are suffering at the border and we must act now to stop it. The House should vote to approve the Senate version of the bill that addresses the Central American refugee crisis at the border and helps the kids living in unsafe and unacceptable conditions," tweeted freshman Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah).

"The thinking there is that if progressives force us to go home without addressing the border crisis ... that's a real problem," said a senior Democratic aide associated with the moderate wing of the party.

The front-line members are particularly wary of liberal-backed language in the House bill that cuts funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a provision that could lead to GOP attack ads against vulnerable Democrats.

"That is terrible policy, terrible politics all around for many of these front-line members," the aide said.

Liberals pushing for the additional provisions say the language is necessary to ensure the emergence funds are used by the administration for the safety and care of the migrant children, as Congress intended. 

"This is not a controversial or radical idea," said Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants On the Money: Tech giants face rising pressure from shareholder activists | House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure | Sen. Warren, Jamie Dimon spar over overdraft fees at Senate hearing MORE (R.I.), head of the Democrats' messaging arm. "This is about our basic humanity and the responsibility we have for the children who are in our custody." 

Undermining the leverage of the liberals, however, the Senate passed its bill on Wednesday with the overwhelming support of 84 lawmakers, including a number of liberal Democrats. An earlier version of the House bill had not fared nearly as well, winning support from just 37 Democrats.

The combination of Senate votes has led to plenty of attacks from liberal House Democrats on Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees Overnight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' MORE (D-N.Y.), whom the liberals are accusing of failing to keep his troops in line at the expense of the party's leverage in the debate. 

"We're toast. Schumer f---ed us," a senior Democratic aide told The Hill by text from inside the meeting in Pelosi's office. 

Time is of the essence. The House is slated to leave Washington Thursday for a long July 4 recess, and there seemed to be little appetite among rank-and-file members to stick around for a long-drawn fight over the border money.

"It's over," said the senior Democratic aide. "The Senate passed a bipartisan bill. These guys want to get out of town."

Updated: 2:29 p.m.