WASHINGTON - The House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid bill Tuesday, one containing provisions for the treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody that Democratic leaders added amid widespread anger in their ranks over President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.
The 230-to-195 largely party-line vote followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations among Democrats who said they have been horrified by reports of poor conditions at overcrowded U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities where unaccompanied children have been kept. The bill's passage sets up a high-stakes negotiation with Trump and Senate Republicans to deliver aid days before a looming deadline.
The backdrop for the vote is not only the humanitarian concerns about the surging numbers of migrants but also Trump's threats - delayed but not canceled Saturday - to begin a mass deportation of illegal immigrant families. Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about passing a border aid bill that would not address both of those issues.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., unveiled changes to the bill Tuesday morning that would require the CBP to establish new health and safety standards for migrants in its custody, as well as protocols for dealing with migrant surges, within 30 days. The changes would also limit children's stays at "influx shelters" used by the Department of Health and Human Services to no more than 90 days and require the department to report to Congress on their use.
Additional changes Lowey unveiled Tuesday afternoon would bar HHS shelter contractors who do not provide adequate accommodations, food and personal items, such as toothbrushes, as well as routine medical care, schooling, leisure activities, and other basic services.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who pushed for the final revisions as a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she had "tremendous apprehensions" about voting to fund the Trump administration's border response but said she was prepared do so to improve conditions for migrant children.
"I don't even know how to describe the idea that we have to tell them: You've got to provide food and water to these kids," she said. "But that's what we're doing."
Tuesday's House vote is not expected to garner significant Republican support. The White House announced it was opposed to the bill Monday, and House GOP leaders said they favor a competing bipartisan bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 30-to-1 vote last week.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that Democrats were "playing politics" with the border aid, and he called on Pelosi to put the Senate bill to a vote.
"Let's send the bipartisan bill from the Senate to the president's desk," he said. "I don't understand what the Democrats are doing here.
But Republicans are not entirely united behind the Senate compromise. Two conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, went to the White House on Tuesday to lobby Trump to push Democrats for more concessions.
"I'm telling him it could be better," Gohmert said of the Senate bill Tuesday.
Meadows acknowledged that he visited the White House on Tuesday to discuss immigration with Trump but disputed that he was urging him to oppose the Senate deal. "I'm not a fan of the Senate border bill, and yet at the same time it's head and shoulders above what we're about to pass here in the House," he said.
Trump has previously reversed course on key legislation - most notably, a December funding bill that would have averted what became a 35-day federal government shutdown. But a senior GOP lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe talks with the White House said Republican leaders are not concerned Trump will withdraw support for the Senate deal.
The two chambers now have only two days to spare before lawmakers are set to leave Washington for a weeklong holiday recess. The HHS has warned Congress the agency will exhaust its funding for housing migrant children at the end of the month - a scenario that would impede efforts to move them out of Border Patrol facilities.
The Senate is poised to vote this week on its own $4.6 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $2.88 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to address the large numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border. Through May, nearly 51,000 children have been referred to the HHS since the fiscal year began in October, an increase of almost 60% compared with the same period last year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged the House on Tuesday to take up his chamber's bill: "I'm hoping the House will conclude that's the best way to get the problem solved," he said.
The Senate bill does not contain most of the strictures that House Democrats are demanding to ensure humane treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody. The Senate bill also includes $50 million more than the House measure for immigration judges to speed the adjudication of asylum claims, as well as $61 million in back pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Republicans described some of the provisions in the House Democrats' bill as unacceptable, diminishing chances of a deal. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said Republicans are especially unhappy with the lack of funding for immigration judges and restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement funding.
"This should have been an easy situation," he said. "But, right now, nothing is easy when it comes to the border."
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that he expected a quick negotiation to reach a compromise once both chambers pass their bills: "We've got to get some aid to these poor children. You read about this; it just wrenches your heart."
Inside a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., characterized a vote against the House bill as "a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civilized attitude toward the children," according to notes taken by an aide present in the room who was not authorized to comment publicly.
"The stronger the vote, the bigger the message to the Senate," she said, adding: "Think about children being in their parents' arms. Think about what our values are as a country, and not about each of us."
Pelosi asked the members in the room whether anyone had a problem with the bill. She was met with silence, according to the aide's notes.
She told reporters afterward that the Democratic bill represented "a very strong first step for us, for the children." Other Democrats said additional bills could be drafted to address humanitarian conditions at the border, but only the supplemental funding bill is expected to pass into law in the near future.
"It's like every bill we pass: It's not perfect, but it's a good bill, and I think most think it's preferable to the Senate bill, although the Senate bill is not a bad bill either," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Dozens of Democrats spent more than two hours in Pelosi's office Monday night, debating how to amend the bill to address the growing concerns about the conditions in Border Patrol facilities, as well as the difficulties the Trump administration has experienced in transferring migrants out of Border Patrol custody into HHS shelters or the custody of relatives in the United States.
A group of hard-left Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., came out Saturday against providing any funding that could be used to detain migrant children and potentially conduct deportations. Their rhetoric threatened to derail support for the bill, particularly among members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus - two groups with outsize influence.
But when leaving Tuesday morning's meeting, several lawmakers affiliated with those groups said they were inclined to back Pelosi to improve their negotiating stance with the GOP-led Senate and Trump.
"I feel much better about it today," said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member who said she was particularly pleased to see the 90-day time limit. "We didn't have that before, and to me, that was critical."
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The Washington Post’s Emily Davies, Hailey Fuchs, Paul Kane and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.