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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases House Democrats urge congressional leaders to support .1B budget for IRS Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate 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) GottheimerDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Democrat Gottheimer wins reelection in New Jersey Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats 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 McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary 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 Nicola CicillineDemocrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs 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.