Democrats may bring DHS bill to House floor

Democrats may bring DHS bill to House floor
© Bonnie Cash

Democrats in the House are feeling more optimistic that they’ll be able to bring the 2021 Homeland Security funding bill to the floor for a vote, saying changes to make the measure more appealing to progressives are gaining steam.

If they’re successful, the House Democrats could be able to have approved all 12 annual spending bills in floor votes before the August recess, an important milestone that they believe would prove that Democrats are focused on governing ahead of the elections.

Just days ago, the expectations among Democrats and budget watchers was that the DHS bill, which deals with such hot button issues as President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE’s border wall and funding agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), would be the lone spending bill Democrats excluded from getting a full vote.

But that sentiment is quickly changing.


“There are always concerns about bills that go to the floor, and the Homeland bill probably has the most controversial issues,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardOvernight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Democratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, said Wednesday.

“But feedback we have gotten so far has been relatively favorable, and I am looking forward to going to the floor later this month,” she added.

The DHS bill, which was approved in a 30-22 party-line vote in the appropriations committee on Wednesday morning, would reduce the number of ICE detention beds to 12,000 for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, fund alternatives to detention and phase out family detention by the end of the year.

It would not only defund President Trump’s border wall, but also rescind unused funds for the wall.

The bill would crack down on transfer authority that Democratic appropriators said immigration agencies were abusing to subvert the will of Congress.

“We have heard positive feedback from advocates about the bill’s provisions to reduce the number of ICE detention beds, crack down on the Trump administration’s abuses, and protect the dignity and rights of migrants,” said a Democratic aide, who put the odds of the bill’s advancement at about 50-50.

Things looked less promising for the DHS bill at the beginning of the week.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter on Monday, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission MORE (D-Md.) said that the House would take up a package of four spending bills on July 23, but refrained from specifying what bills would be in a second package the following week. He said the process would ensure that the House would be approving “most” government funding measures.

Roybal-Allard herself said that it was “unlikely” her bill would be taken up on the floor given opposition from some progressives in the party, who oppose all funding for ICE and CBP, according to Roll Call. With no Republican support for the partisan spending bills expected, a significant defection from progressives or moderates could sink the bill.

Democrats last year decided against bringing the DHS spending bill to the floor in an effort to avoid an internal party fight. Last year, they simply left the bill on the sidelines and reintroduced it in a package of bipartisan compromise bills negotiated with the Senate.

Senate appropriators are entangled in their own internal divisions, and unlikely to produce or advance their own bills before the Sept. 30 deadline. Expectations are that Congress will have to punt the spending measures until after November’s election, or even into 2021.

Democrats on Wednesday also adopted amendments that would block the deportation of people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status (TPS) programs and loosen visa restrictions.

The provisions elicited a rebuke from committee Republicans.

“This is a difficult bill,” said Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannRep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (Tenn.), the top Republican on the DHS subcommittee.

“The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is simple: protect the nation. In order to do that, all components of the department must be fully funded. We cannot allow our men and women on the front lines to face further budget cuts and it is critical to fully fund border wall construction,” he said.

But while Roybal-Allard was more bullish on the bill than she was last year, and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Mike Pocan (D-Wis.) backed it in committee, some Democrats say they will oppose it if it includes any money for immigration authorities.

Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Six ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' MORE (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBudget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley says image of Black custodial staff cleaning up Capitol after Jan. 6 riot 'haunts' her DeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes DeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSix ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' Democrats urge Biden FDA to drop in-person rule for abortion pill MORE (D-Mich.), a group sometimes known as “the squad,” released a statement Wednesday setting such demands for the bill.

“Last year, the four of us voted against this CBP funding, clear eyed that CBP and ICE are rogue agencies that act to inflict harm on our communities and have a pattern of behavior of abuse and mismanagement of funds,” they wrote.

“This year, the House must hold CBP accountable for their egregious violation of the law by withholding any further funding and imposing additional accountability measures with real consequences,” they added.

A senior Democratic aide said that Democratic leadership was still considering the fate of the bill.

“No such decision has been made,” the aide said.