Nancy Pelosi, Democrats approve border bill
Five months after labeling the border a “manufactured” crisis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led Democrats on Tuesday to approve a $4.5 billion humanitarian assistance package President Trump had requested to deal with the record surge of illegal immigrants.
But Democrats took their pound of flesh in the vote, deleting some of the president’s priorities from the final bill, such as money for investigators to stop human traffickers or more detention beds for ICE. Instead, they packed the measure with new rules on how Mr. Trump can spend the money, and on the conditions migrants can face when they arrive at the border.
House leaders added still more anti-Trump restrictions to the bill at the last minute in order to persuade wavering liberals to back the measure, which cleared Tuesday evening on a 230-195 vote that broke down almost entirely along party lines.
“Today our legislation is a vote against the cruel attitude toward children of this administration,” Mrs. Pelosi said as she sought to rally fellow Democrats who were reluctant to vote for anything that might seem like a win for Mr. Trump on immigration.
The future of the House bill is very much in doubt, though.
While it includes money Mr. Trump sought, the White House objects to the specific allocations and the restrictions Democrats attached. A veto has been threatened.
“This is not one of our finest moments,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.
He suggested that the House should wait on the Senate, which is working on a bipartisan $4.6 billion bill that is more to the president’s liking. That bill cleared a Senate committee on a 30-1 vote last week, and Republican leaders are looking to clear floor time as early as Wednesday to pass it through the full chamber.
What happens then is anyone’s guess.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be on vacation next week for the Independence Day holiday, meaning either a bill clears by Friday or it waits 10 days.
But the Health and Human Services Department, which is responsible for caring for some of the illegal immigrant children at the border, could run out of money early next month, making any delay a risk.
“We’re out of capacity and we’re out of money,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told radio show host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
Without money, he said, it will be like operating during a government shutdown.
The action on Capitol Hill came as turmoil gripped the Homeland Security Department. John Sanders, who had been serving as acting commissioner of the border agency, revealed he is leaving July 5. He had been in office for only a couple of months.
His replacement is Mark Morgan, who is the acting head at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the interior-security agency. When Mr. Morgan leaves ICE, his replacement there will be Matt Albence, currently the deputy director.
The shake-up came as grim reports continued to flow in from the border.
A spate of immigrant deaths resulting from the summer heat and the treacherous waters of the Rio Grande and new reports of deplorable overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at Customs and Border Protection facilities left Democrats steaming.
“CBP is clearly failing to carry out its mission given the Trump administration’s disastrous immigration policies,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “It is quite clear that bad actors in the White House are doing all they can to strong-arm the Department of Homeland Security and stand in the way of any progress or agreeable solution.”
Republicans counter that it’s the overwhelming numbers that are the problem — and the lack of cooperation from Democrats in closing the “loopholes” that entice the migrants to come.
As of last week, border facilities built to hold perhaps 4,000 people had 15,000 people in them. Some 1,400 of those were unaccompanied children who were waiting to be transferred to the Health Department — which had only 450 open beds.
At the White House, Mr. Trump said he was “very concerned” about the conditions on the border. But he insisted they are “much better than they were under President Obama, by far.”
The president said he would like to see Democrats cooperate on stopping the migrant surge.
“Our laws are so bad. What we would like to do, and I’ll do it right now officially, is ask the Democrats to give us help on asylum. Help on all of the loopholes,” the president said. “We need the votes of Democrats.”
He wants to raise the standards for making asylum claims and repair a 2015 court ruling that requires illegal immigrant families to be released from detention within 20 days. That is less than half the time it usually takes to have a judge hear their case, and once they are released they often disappear into the shadows, refusing to show up for their proceedings and defying deportation orders.
None of those issues was part of Tuesday’s bill.
What was included were $2.9 billion to replenish HHS funding to shelter and care for migrant children, $200 million for a new model for processing illegal immigrant children and families at the border, nearly $800 million to alleviate overcrowding at CBP facilities, and $60 million in assistance to communities overwhelmed by migrants being released into their jurisdictions.