border crisis

House, Senate, Trump Locked in Three-Way Battle Over Border Spending Bill

Congress and Trump are far from resolving multiple disputes over how to structure and pay for treatment of migrants. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The number of contentious issues caught up in the supplemental appropriations bill for border concerns that is struggling through Congress right now is not easy to count. It involves funding for the immigration-enforcement bureaucracy, whose conduct toward migrants (especially children) has aroused so much outrage, and money for the facilities that house detained migrants.

Last night, the House passed a Democratic bill that includes multiple provisions that the Trump administration and most congressional Republicans oppose, such as tighter restrictions on how border-enforcement personnel use federal money, and a restoration of aid to the Central American countries where chaotic violence is driving people north. Even before the bill was amended late in the process to bring more progressives onboard, the White House had threatened a presidential veto. And today the Senate approved a bipartisan bill that accommodates the administration on enforcement funding, but even that legislation isn’t a cinch to win Trump’s approval.

What’s driving the sense of urgency about this bill is that the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is entrusted with the care of migrant children, is running out of money at the end of this month. Meanwhile, Congress is planning to head home for a ten-day Independence Day recess as soon as it can wrap up business this week.

Even before the Senate approved its own bill, Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans were using the Trump veto threat to issue an our-way-or-the-highway ultimatum to House Democrats, as Politico explains:

Senate Republicans are looking to jam House Democrats on a much-needed cash infusion for the southern border, arguing the Senate’s bill is the only thing that can become law and win President Donald Trump’s signature.

After a furious whipping effort from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House on Tuesday passed a $4.5 billion spending measure that also provides more protections for migrants and less enforcement funding than requested by the administration.

But GOP leaders plan to pass their own legislation Wednesday and vote down the House bill, leaving Pelosi with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition heading into the July Fourth recess.

It seems very unlikely that House Democrats will bend to these demands. Speaker Pelosi struggled to get her own party’s measure enacted, with amendments strengthening restrictions on use of migrant-detention funds being added. And four very well-known freshman Democrats — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — still didn’t sign on. AOC explained her position to Roll Call:

“Right now, there’s no good outcome here,” the New York Democrat said Tuesday afternoon when asked if she was comfortable with the new language.

“When you look at the influx of what’s going on, the CBP director just resigned 20 minutes ago. We have no idea what kind of leadership is taking over,” she added, referring to the resignation this week of John Sanders, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Ocasio-Cortez sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee, where she said lawmakers “haven’t been able to get a single document out of CBP, ICE, DHS, of the whereabouts of these kids.”

“They’re not being compliant, they’re not giving us any information to help inform this decision,” she said. “And it’s really hard to just try to decide … if we approve funding, if it’s actually going to go to the places that we need it to go.”

Aside from the insanely complicated details, there’s a big-picture partisan argument over the nature of the “emergency” lawmakers are addressing, as became clear during the House debate:

During the debate, House Republicans castigated Democrats for dragging their heels before admitting that the situation on the border was “a crisis.” They lamented that the bill had veered to the left because it did not include additional money for immigration judges or for the investigation of human traffickers …

Rep. Jim McGovern, chairman of the Rules Committee, responded to criticism from Republicans by saying that the crisis the House was discussing Tuesday was not the same as the one that President Donald Trump has been talking about for the last two years, using “hateful and derogatory” language.

“The crisis we’re talking about today is the one the president created — the mistreatment of children in U.S. custody,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. He said none of the provisions in the amendment “were left, right or middle — they are just common sense.”

It’s not clear how or whether Congress and the administration can get out of this three-cornered conflict, despite growing public anguish over the treatment of migrant children.

Congress, Trump in Three-Way Battle Over Border Spending