House Democrats are still haggling over the details of a contentious bill to deliver billions of dollars for the humanitarian crisis at the border, with chances of a vote before the Fourth of July diminishing by the day.
Top Democrats left a closed-door meeting Wednesday still aiming to bring legislation to the floor within the next two weeks. But Democrats have yet to reach a final agreement, with a vocal group of progressives still refusing to back the proposal to send money to the Trump administration.
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“It has to get done quickly. People have to get that [funding],” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), a key negotiator on border issues, said leaving the meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Wednesday.
The negotiations remain delicate, as top lawmakers know whatever they ultimately settle on risks dividing the caucus over immigration and border policy. Democrats are also feeling pressure to act as soon as a GOP-controlled Senate panel prepares to vote on its own supplemental spending package next week.
“We’re working on a proposal. The Senate’s going to be working on one next week. And I’m hoping we can all get together and address the emergency because there is an emergency,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said after the meeting.
Pelosi and her deputies have said the funding, which Trump asked for in May, will be strictly devoted to the humanitarian crisis. Still, the prospect of offering more cash to Trump’s border security officials has roiled key factions of the caucus, particularly the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for months.
The influx of migrants at the southern border has put Democrats into a corner: They have sought to take a firm stand against Trump, while also indicating they want to send money to care for the thousands of unaccompanied children on the border.
Meanwhile, the pressure has been growing. Some border-state lawmakers, including Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), have personally urged Pelosi and other top Democrats to act immediately on the request, with government funds drying up back home.
And House Republicans have sought to seize on what they see as hesitation by Democrats. On Wednesday, a group of conservatives, led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), led a protest over the inaction on the floor by demanding individual roll call votes on dozens of amendments — effectively adding hours to the process of passing other spending bills.
In recent weeks, Roybal-Allard, Lowey and another appropriator, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), have worked to sell members of the CHC on a potential deal with Republicans. DeLauro met with the CHC on Tuesday to continue negotiations.
“The sticky issues are always the immigration side of things,” Roybal-Allard said in an interview Wednesday on the state of negotiations. The struggle, she said, is to “find some balance in legislation that can pass, but at the same time, try to protect the values that I and others believe in.”
Top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 Democrat, have acknowledged that the caucus is skeptical that Trump won’t simply decide to divert the money from a migrant aid package to other border enforcement priorities, like his so-called “wall” or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Hoyer said this week there is “substantial concern” that the White House won’t distinguish between humanitarian and enforcement money on the border.
But Hoyer also stressed after the meeting Wednesday that Democrats are looking for a bipartisan vote for the bill: “Hopefully we’ll get something that’s acceptable to a majority of our members, but we really want to have Republicans and Democrats agree that this is an emergency.”
One obstacle, according to multiple lawmakers and aides, are demands from CHC Chairman Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who has sought specifics of the plan that Democrats intend to pitch to Republicans. Some in the CHC have complained they have been left out of earlier talks, and Castro was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Appropriators did come close to a deal to attach border assistance funds to a multi-billion dollar disaster aid package that moved through Congress just before the Memorial Day recess.
But the negotiators — who were running out of time to get the larger package through the House and Senate — abandoned that plan after protests from both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the administration.
Since then, members in both parties have been working behind the scenes to move towards an agreement. But some Democrats with knowledge of the talks remain privately pessimistic that they can get a bill through the House within the next two weeks, with massive spending bills already packing the calendar.
While there is bipartisan agreement on the broad idea of addressing the border crisis, Democrats and Republicans have yet to coalesce around a plan. Now the Senate is forging ahead on its own — a move that some House Democrats fear will ultimately hurt their bargaining position with Republicans.
The Senate is expected to take action on the White House request next week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up a standalone $4.5 billion border funding bill next Wednesday with hopes on passing it on the Senate floor after the July Fourth recess.