House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats stressed the importance of passing their emergency funding package before lawmakers leave town for the weeklong recess. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
House Democratic leaders emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday confident that they had secured the votes for a contentious border funding bill even as they continued to privately discuss tweaks to appease progressives.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a final sales pitch to the caucus ahead of a Tuesday afternoon floor vote, arguing that Democrats need to stand behind their plan to tackle the humanitarian crisis, rather than squabble over President Donald Trump and his immigration policies. A vote against the bill, she said, would be a vote for Trump. Story Continued Below
“The president would love for this bill to go down today,” Pelosi told the caucus as she urged support, according to a senior Democratic aide. At one point, Pelosi asked the caucus, “Does anyone have a problem with the bill?” the aide said. No one responded aloud.
As Pelosi worked the room, she walked around with a whip list in her hand as she approached individual members to see how they were going to vote. She encouraged lawmakers to chat with her outside if they had concerns, according to sources in the room.
“One of the things I don’t like is surprises,” Pelosi told members in the closed-door meeting.
And in remarks to reporters after the meeting, the California Democrat predicted a successful vote: “It will pass when we bring it to the floor.”
The $4.5 billion emergency measure would avert a funding lapse at the federal refugee office that has overseen thousands of unaccompanied children migrating from Central America, though it would still need to be reconciled with the Senate’s own version before becoming law.
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Hours before the bill was slated to reach the floor, top Democrats were still in talks with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to try to address lingering unease about giving Trump any money for his immigration agenda. The caucus plans to meet later Tuesday before the vote to discuss the changes.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the co-chair of that caucus, said Tuesday morning that they are pushing for stricter compliance rules — what he called a “hammer” — in case the agencies ignored their bill’s oversight provisions.
“If there’s not a hammer, then it’s not really enforceable. So we just want to make sure there’s a little stronger language on that,” Pocan said. “We’re so close.”
Several progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have already secured last-minute tweaks to the bill after a late-night meeting in Pelosi’s office on Monday. It’s not clear, however, whether they will be enough to win the support of the New York Democrat and her allies.
Those changes, which require certain standards of health, hygiene and nutrition for unaccompanied children, will be formally added to the bill ahead of the afternoon vote, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern confirmed Tuesday.
Democrats also agreed to changes that tighten restrictions for short-term detention facilities, known as influx shelters, stating that no child could be kept in a shelter for more than 90 days. The new language would also ensure that all migrants in U.S. custody have access to translation services.
McGovern said that the “hammer” provision that progressives are seeking would likely be worked out in the final version.
What remains unclear is how both chambers of Congress and the White House can unite behind a final product this week, before lawmakers depart for a week-long Fourth of July recess.
Democratic and Republican leaders will have only three days to work out the key differences between the two versions of the bill. Some Democratic leaders have already discussed staying in town for an extra day on Friday.
Pelosi’s all-out whip operation on Tuesday morning followed a lengthy — and tense — meeting in her office Monday night. Members of both the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses had been threatening to vote against the bill, putting its passage in jeopardy.
High-profile progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, gave “impassioned” speeches Monday night about how the bill didn’t go far enough to ensure the administration was addressing basic humanitarian needs for migrant children who are being held at the border.
Pelosi and other top Democrats stressed the importance of passing their emergency funding package before lawmakers leave town for the recess — or risk getting stuck with the Senate’s version, which has fewer safeguards.
“It’s like every bill we pass — it’s not perfect, but it’s a good bill,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “I think [that] most think it’s preferable to the Senate bill although the Senate bill is not a bad bill either.”
In addition to Pelosi, freshman Rep. Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services secretary, tried to rally her colleagues in support of the legislation during Tuesday’s private meeting.
“I ran HHS…there’s nothing more central to why I came here than protecting children,” she said. “And that’s what that bill’s about, it’s about kids.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the caucus chairman, acknowledged the unsettled mood of the caucus.
“What is clear is that there is understandable anxiety amongst members of the Democratic caucus because there’s understandable anxiety among the Americans people,” Jeffries told reporters.
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