WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House voted Thursday to send President Donald Trump a bipartisan, Senate-drafted, $4.6 billion measure to care for migrant refugees detained at the southern border, capping a Washington skirmish in which die-hard liberals came out on the losing end in a battle with the White House, the GOP-held Senate and Democratic moderates.
The emergency legislation, required to ease overcrowded, often harsh conditions at U.S. holding facilities for migrants seeking asylum, mostly from Central American nations like Honduras and El Salvador, passed by a bipartisan 305-102 vote. Trump has indicated he'll sign it into law.
Ninety-five Democrats opposed the bill, reluctantly brought to a vote by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after her plan to further strengthen rules for treatment of migrant refugees ran into intractable opposition from Republican lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence. Many moderate Democrats split with Pelosi as well, undercutting her efforts, which faded shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would swiftly reject them.
The legislation contains more than $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and almost $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over the Department of Health and Human Services. It rejects an administration request for additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds, however, and contains provisions designed to prevent federal immigration agents from going after immigrants living in the country illegally who seek to care for unaccompanied children.
The funding is urgently needed to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border from worsening. The government had warned that money would run out in a matter of days.
The Senate bill passed Wednesday by an 84-8 vote, with Democrats there pleased with the deal they cut with Republicans controlling the chamber.
The measure was initially only reluctantly accepted by the White House — which complained about elimination of the request for detention bed for immigrants facing removal from the U.S. — but GOP support grew after the measure presented an opportunity to outmaneuver Pelosi. Just seven Republicans opposed the bill.
"We could have done so much better," Pelosi said in a floor speech. Earlier, Pelosi pushed a plan to ping-pong the Senate-passed bill right back across the Capitol with provisions requiring more stringent care requirements for detained migrant families and other steps. But confronted with splintering unity in the Democratic rank and file and intractable opposition from McConnell, Pelosi changed course.
Pence and Pelosi had an hour-long conversation on the legislation Thursday as the White House and Republicans kept pounding the message the only way forward on the long-sought legislation was to pass the Senate bill.
Pence's chief of staff Marc Short described the call as friendly and productive. Pelosi, a devout Catholic, appealed to Pence's sense of faith.
Pelosi presented an effective case that House Democrats wanted more, Short said, but the vice president stressed that with the bipartisan vote in Senate and funding running out, now was not the time to be reopening the bill.
The leaders of the House Progressive Caucus, which includes almost half of House Democrats, immediately issued a statement calling the Senate bill — which had the backing of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — "entirely insufficient to protect vulnerable children in our care."
"Standing up for human rights requires more than providing money," Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif, said.
Thursday's outcome was a victory for McConnell, who vowed the GOP-held Senate would kill any "partisan" House changes the Democratic-controlled House passed, and he appeared to hold a strong hand.