Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House will “reluctantly” pass the Senate’s version of a border funding bill amid mounting pressure from moderate Democrats to address the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border before the July 4th recess.
Pelosi’s announcement marks a reversal from her previous calls to reconcile the two bills and was immediately met with outrage from progressives.
“The children come first,” Pelosi said in a statement. “At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available.”
Democratic leaders in the House were scrambling earlier Thursday to reconcile their emergency border funding bill with a version that passed the Senate overwhelmingly Wednesday as a humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border rages on.
After a shocking image this week of a father and daughter drowned went viral — serving as a grim reminder of the dangerous journey migrants take to get to the United States — the haunting photo has added even more urgency for Republicans and Democrats to make a deal.
The House unveiled an amendment to the $4.6 billion Senate bill late Wednesday , but Democratic moderates threatened to revolt and kill the latest border spending bill pushed by the House, according to two Democratic sources involved in the effort.
Behind the scenes, moderates were encouraging members of the Blue Dog and Problem Solvers caucuses to vote against a procedural vote that governed floor debate and force Pelosi to pass the bipartisan Senate bill, as the White House and Hill Republicans have been demanding.
Rep. Henry Cuellar said he expected the vote to come as soon as Thursday afternoon but exact timing remains fluid.
Asked why he thinks Pelosi ultimately decided to go with the clean bill, he said: “We cannot lead with a game of chicken,” adding the House and Senate can’t go back and forth on something as pressing as this.
Pelosi spoke on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence for nearly an hour Thursday, according to a senior Democratic aide. Pelosi then went into a meeting with her leadership team to brief them.
Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, says that for him, the growing distress at the border is happening at home. The congressman pulled out his phone and showed reporters images he’d been sent from constituents at the border.
“Listen, I don’t go visit the border. I live at the border. Those men and women who sometimes get demonized. That is wrong. Those are my neighbors and I have their backs,” he said.
Progressives, meanwhile, argued they cannot trust the Trump administration not to divert money for humanitarian aid toward immigration enforcement, and that they need to include more protections as well as higher standards of care.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told CNN she’s “deeply saddened” that the House will have to pass the Senate border bill, and criticized Republicans for not accepting what she called “moderate provisions.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, went a step further, arguing after a meeting Thursday morning, “Nobody in that room trusts this President. Nobody. So, we have to make sure this money is being used for the children.”
Pelosi grew emotional after being asked to describe her reaction to the viral photo of the father and daughter who died at the border. Before answering, she paused for nine seconds while staring down, with both hands on the podium. Then her voice struggled as she started to speak.
“Can you just imagine, the father put the little girl on the shore, to go back to get the mother and the little girl wanted to be with her father. She got back in. And then he couldn’t save her, and then he couldn’t save himself. This is such a tragedy,” Pelosi said.
The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday passed a $4.6 billion bill to address the migrant crisis at the southern border, setting up a clash with House Democrats, who had passed a different version of similar legislation. The Senate bill passed overwhelmingly with an 84-8 vote.