Border aid fallout tests Pelosi-Schumer relationship

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) relationship with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is being put to the test in the aftermath of an emergency border supplemental spending bill that divided congressional Democrats. 

The rare disunity from two leaders who have regularly issued joint statements and stood firm together during the Trump presidency raises questions about how Pelosi, Schumer and Senate Democrats will tackle other high-stakes negotiations facing them in the coming weeks and months.

The wheels started turning when Schumer became one of 33 Democrats to vote for the bipartisan Senate bill, even though Pelosi had let Senate negotiators know that she wanted to make important changes to the legislation.

{mosads}The strong Democratic support for the Senate spending bill then emboldened a group of moderate House Democrats to balk at changes favored by Pelosi and House liberals that would have put greater restrictions on money headed to the border to better protect migrants.

Pelosi made clear she thought the Senate bill fell short of the migrant protections provided in the House bill. But when faced with an internal revolt, she eventually caved and accepted the Senate bill.

“This seems to be the only time I can remember in the last two years or three years where Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi were not on the same page,” said a House aide, who added there was broad feeling among House Democrats that Schumer had undercut their position.

But the aide called it a “unique situation” because many moderate House Democrats liked the Senate emergency border bill.

“I don’t think it will be repeated again,” the aide said. “The things coming down the pipeline are much bigger, more fundamental issues,” referring to ongoing negotiations between the White House, Senate and House on spending limits and the debt ceiling.

The aide predicted that it would be difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “jam the House on a $1.3 trillion spending bill.”

{mossecondads}“There are so many equities involved on both the House and Senate Democratic sides it’s unlikely the House Democratic position could be ignored,” the aide added.

A Pelosi spokesman offered a similar assessment, noting the unique dynamics of the migrant debate coming amid news of horrific conditions at the border — news that broke after the Senate had advanced its bill through committee.

The coming debate over spending caps will be “totally different,” the aide argued, since Democrats are virtually united behind their priorities, while Republicans are divided over whether to raise the caps at all.

“There are different leverage points on that,” the aide said. “In those talks, Schumer and Pelosi have been in lockstep.”

Jim Dyer, the longtime Republican clerk and staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, said Pelosi may have to ensure she is involved earlier in the process to avoid getting rolled again by the Senate.

“It might serve as a lesson about the importance that when two bodies are negotiating on these things that you’ve got to get yourself in earlier,” he said.

Last week’s overwhelming bipartisan Senate vote for the border bill — 84 to 8 — cut the legs out from under her demands, something McConnell was more than happy to point out to reporters.

“I’m proud of the Senate for stepping up, passing a bill 84 to 8, that’s as bipartisan as it gets around here, to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border. We did not in the end continue to play these political games over this humanitarian crisis. They did and it’s their problem to resolve,” McConnell said Thursday, ratcheting up pressure on Pelosi.

The lopsided nature of the vote stole negotiating leverage from Pelosi and outraged House liberals. They were furious with Schumer for not rallying more Democratic opposition.

A closer Senate vote might have strengthened Pelosi’s hand in pressing for the more explicit protections for migrant children, they argued.

“If you heard how often our Republican colleagues invoked the vote out of the Senate, it obviously significantly undermined our leverage and our ability to keep these important protections in the bill,” said Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), who heads House Democrats’ messaging arm.

A complicating factor for Pelosi was when Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged her to take up and pass the Senate bill.

“They ought to accept what Sen. Shelby and I put through,” Leahy said, referring to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who negotiated the compromise bill with him. “No Republican gets everything they want and no Democrat gets everything they want. Our bill is a good compromise.”

It was a sign of growing impatience among rank-and-file Senate Democrats over how long it was taking to reach an agreement to pass a humanitarian aid package.

That pressure to act increased when The New York Times and other publications prominently displayed a heart-wrenching photo of a 25-year-old Salvadoran migrant and his two-year-old daughter lying dead, face down, on the banks of the Rio Grande in Mexico.

A growing public clamor for action worked against Pelosi and House liberals.

“You had two events in the public eye in the last week or so that got the average person saying, ‘Holy God, something’s got to be done.’ And the second was the reports of inhumane treatment of children at that facility in Texas,” said Dyer, the former longtime appropriations aide, referring to reports of migrant children living in filthy conditions at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

“Democrats and Republicans, alike, are not immune to it and the push is we’ve got to do something and we’ve got to do it fast,” he added.

Schumer, however, was careful to stop short of putting pressure on Pelosi to act.

Asked by reporters last week if Pelosi should go ahead and pass the Senate bill, Schumer declined to say so.

Senate Democrats, pointing to various statements by House members praising the Senate border bill, argue they didn’t undercut Pelosi.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) acknowledged the Senate bill was “a good bill” even while she also touted her own legislation as “a better bill.”

Even Pelosi tried to persuade liberal members of her caucus to have realistic expectations, telling them: “The Senate has a good bill.”

“If we are going to prevail we have to have a good, strong vote,” she said.

Her hope for a strong vote, however, was derailed by the defections of moderate Democrats.

Scott Lilly, a former Democratic clerk and staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, said, “people didn’t want to stick around and fight.”

He said the smell of jet fumes ahead of the July 4 recess was a key factor.

“I think as you get to other issues she’s going to be able to say, ‘No, we’re going to stay here,’ ” he said, adding of the Senate: “They kind of used a chip with her and got by with it this time. I wouldn’t advise Mitch McConnell to think he can work that game repeatedly.”

Lilly said he thinks Pelosi’s relationship with Schumer will remain strong.

“It works both ways. There are House bills that get to the Senate under similar conditions from time to time,” he said. “The Senate Democrats have to rely on the House, particularly given that they’re in the minority so I wouldn’t think they would deliberately short her.”

The politics in the two chambers are different because a greater number of Democratic lawmakers in the House feel impassioned about migrant protections.

“That’s not something that’s easy to get the Senate Democrats to stand firm on,” he said.

Tags border aid Chuck Schumer David Cicilline Immigration migrants Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi negotiations Nita Lowey Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video