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 Trump’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-Allard (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 Hoyer (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 Fleischmann (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 Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (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.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Appropriations Ayanna Pressley Budget Chuck Fleischmann DHS Donald Trump ICE Ilhan Omar Immigration Lucille Roybal-Allard Rashida Tlaib Steny Hoyer
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