Senate passes border spending package, setting up fight with House

By Heather Caygle and Burgess Everett
Lawmakers are now weighing whether to reconcile the measures before the recess

Both the Senate and House have now passed legislation delivering billions of dollars to address the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border. But lawmakers have no agreement on how to reconcile those bills before a recess set to start on Friday.

The Senate passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill on Wednesday, one day after the Democratic House approved its own competing legislation. House and Senate Democrats immediately then began urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to enter into negotiations to craft compromise legislation.

But McConnell was noncommittal and may simply leave Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a take-it-or-leave-it decision heading into the July Fourth recess. McConnell would only say Congress "is going to try to get it finished this week" when asked if he'd enter into talks with House Democrats.

Pelosi, meanwhile, announced plans late Wednesday to amend the Senate bill and tack on several House provisions including language specifying basic standards of care for migrant children. Democrats are also seeking to reimburse local governments and organizations that offer support to migrants and limit to 90 days the amount of time that unaccompanied minors are kept in temporary shelters at the border.

“For the children, we must ensure accountability and transparency so we can know the truth: requiring that any death of a child be reported within 24 hours, that there be no advance notice required for a member of Congress to visit a facility and that funding can only be used for the purposes specifically described in the bill," Pelosi said in a statement laying out some of the other tweaks.

The House is expected to vote on the package Thursday, teeing up another potential showdown with the Senate if Republicans across the Capitol refuse to take up the amended bill. House Democrats already proposed some of those changes earlier in the day but Senate Republicans seemed unlikely to support them, according to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the GOP whip.

"I don't think people want to go home not having solved this. Unless they have tweaks that are things that could pass here, I think it's going to be pretty much our bill or bust," Thune said. "The list [of changes] I've seen are the kind of things that people over here would have a pretty big problem with."

Vice President Mike Pence has been deputized by Trump to negotiate with Pelosi during Trump's trip overseas for the G20 meeting, according to a source involved in the negotiations. The president wants changes to asylum law included in the bill while Pelosi wants more migrants protections — positions that would lead to a long and difficult negotiation.

Pelosi spoke to Trump on Wednesday afternoon about trying to reconcile the two measures, but Democrats may have lost leverage after the House's legislation failed badly in the Senate, 37-55. The Senate's own bipartisan bill, which lacks some protections for migrants preferred by Democrats, then passed 84-8.

House Democrats say they won't leave town without addressing the humanitarian crisis on the border, but have been cool to the Senate's more centrist legislation. “We are planning to pass something before we leave here,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Multiple Democratic centrists have privately urged Pelosi and her deputies to simply put the Senate bill on the floor, even if progressives object. Several members have warned of the horrible optics of leaving for recess without delivering border aid, with devastating stories and images surfacing daily from the southern border.

“There’s a lot of moderates and Blue Dogs, namely freshmen, who want to get something done on border funding before we leave town,” Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) said in an interview, exiting a meeting in Pelosi’s office Wednesday evening. “I did make that case to the speaker, because I think we’d all like to get something done before we leave.”

After a furious whipping effort from Pelosi, the House on Tuesday passed a $4.5 billion spending measure that provides more protections for migrants and less enforcement funding than requested by the administration. Trump has already threatened to veto the House-passed bill.

“They should take ours. The House one is not adequate," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Countered Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.): “That is what we put together to make sure that a lawless administration does not continue to use dollars that Congress gives for purposes other than what is intended."

Pelosi called up Trump and spoke to him for 15 minutes on Wednesday afternoon. Trump told reporters they had a good conversation and that he had also spoken to McConnell. And Trump offered a sunny view on the apparent impasse.

"I think that Nancy wants to get something done, and the Senate and the House will get together. I think they'll be able to do something very good," Trump said.

Earlier Wednesday, McConnell set up votes on the House bill, the Senate bill and an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cut spending in order to pay for the Senate’s plan.

The Senate squashed the House bill and Paul's amendment before passing their legislation. It's unclear whether the Senate will hold more votes on border funding; many senators said they've done their job and it's up to Pelosi whether to take it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he's speaking with Pelosi about making changes and that the White House is considering her requests "so that DHS doesn't do the kinds of things no one wants to see them do."

"I had hoped that the House version would pass, that would have made it easy," Schumer said. "I hope they have a conference and come to an agreement. We're prepared to sit down right now."

Both the House and Senate bill bar Trump from spending the money on the border wall, though the House bill restores foreign aid cuts to Central America and has additional guardrails aimed at improving the standard of care for migrant children and limiting the time they can be held in detention facilities.

But the Senate's passage of the legislation may force Pelosi into a corner — take up the Senate bill, which might pass the House with bipartisan support, or dismiss the House for the recess without addressing the mushrooming humanitarian crisis. Republicans may signal more flexibility if Pelosi's requests are more modest, but the clock is ticking: The House is set to leave on Thursday.

Republicans say they do not want to enter into lengthy negotiations to reconcile the two bills amid grim news reports of migrants dying or being kept in horrific conditions in detention centers. Schumer said he envisions quick negotiations among a handful of party leaders over the next day.

Privately, some Democrats are willing to see the House simply take up the Senate bill. But Senate Democratic leaders are not publicly pressuring Pelosi to pass the Senate’s legislation.

“I can’t tell the House what to do,” said Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Sarah Ferris, Caitlin Oprysko and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.