Border aid package breezes through Senate

The Senate passed a $4.6 billion border aid bill to deliver aid to migrant families and unaccompanied children. The GOP-controlled Senate rejected a progressive House bill, but the Senate's bill is expected to push through both chambers quickly.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (l.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk before a House vote on the SAFE Act at the Capitol in Washington June 26, 2019. After a bipartisan measure passed the Senate, the House is expected to pass the bill.

The GOP-held Senate on Wednesday passed a bipartisan $4.6 billion measure to deliver aid to the southern border before the government runs out of money to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children.

The sweeping 84-8 vote came less than 24 hours after the Democratic-controlled House approved a similar measure backed by liberals. The House bill, which contained tougher requirements for how detained children must be treated, faced a White House veto threat, and was easily rejected by the Senate.

As a result, it remained unclear how the two chambers would resolve their differences and send President Donald Trump a compromise measure that he would sign.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats would propose changes to the Senate legislation on Thursday, and spokesman Drew Hammill said they planned to quickly push the amended measure through the House. That still left questions about whether the Senate and Mr. Trump would accept the revisions and how quickly the Senate could act.

"We pray that the White House and the Senate will join us in embracing the children and meeting their needs," Ms. Pelosi said in a written statement after meeting privately with other top House Democrats.

Ms. Pelosi's statement called for inclusion of provisions setting standards of care for children and limiting how long they could be detained. They would block Mr. Trump from shifting the bill's money to programs Congress has not specifically approved, tighten reporting requirements, and let lawmakers visit immigration facilities without providing advance notice.

Ms. Pelosi called Mr. Trump Wednesday afternoon to discuss the measure. "There's some improvements that we think can be reconciled," Ms. Pelosi told reporters.

Mr. Trump said passing the legislation was urgent as he left the White House for Japan and he appeared to leave the door open for negotiations.

"We are moving along very well with a bipartisan bill in the Senate," Mr. Trump said. "It's very far along and I believe the House is also going to also be getting together with the Senate to get something done. It's humanitarian aid. It's very important."

The final outcome isn't clear.

Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess, and pressure is intense to wrap up the legislation before then. Failure to act could bring a swift political rebuke and accusations of ignoring the plight of innocent immigrant children who are living in overcrowded, often inadequate federal facilities.

The Senate vote comes less than 24 hours after the House passed its version largely along party lines. The funding is urgently needed to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border from worsening.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the House bill earlier Wednesday.

"They had to drag their bill way to the left to earn the support of most Democrats," Mr. McConnell said. "As a result, the House has not made much progress toward actually making a law, just more resistance theater."

Asked Wednesday if he's open to adding some language sought by the House, Mr. McConnell said, "We're working on finishing up this week and getting it to the president."

The Senate rejected the House bill by 55-37.

Both House and Senate measures contain 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. The Senate measure is not as strict in setting conditions on the delivery of funding to care for unaccompanied children and contains funding opposed by House Democrats for the Pentagon and to ease a payroll pinch at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The House and Senate bills ensure funding could not be shifted to Mr. Trump's border wall and would block information on sponsors of immigrant children from being used to deport them. Mr. Trump would be denied additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

Lawmakers' sense of urgency was amplified by a widely circulated, horrid photo of the bodies of a migrant father and toddler daughter who perished on the banks of the Rio Grande River.

Also building pressure were recent reports of gruesome conditions in a windowless Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, where more than 300 infants and children were being housed. Many were kept there for weeks and were caring for each other in conditions that included inadequate food, water, and sanitation.

The Border Patrol reported apprehending nearly 133,000 people last month – including many Central American families – as monthly totals have begun topping 100,000 for the first time since 2007. Federal agencies involved in immigration have reported being overwhelmed, depleting their budgets, and housing large numbers of detainees in structures meant for handfuls of people.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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