June 25, 2019

House Approves Border Aid, Seeking to Curb Trump’s Crackdown

WASHINGTON — A divided House voted on Tuesday to send $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to the border to address horrific conditions facing a crush of migrants, attaching significant rules on how the money could be spent in the first action by Democrats to rein in President Trump’s immigration crackdown.

But the package — which passed by a vote of 230 to 195 nearly along party lines, only after Democratic leaders toughened restrictions on the money to win over liberal skeptics — faces a tough path to enactment. A similar measure with many fewer strings binding Mr. Trump has drawn bipartisan support in the Senate. And the House bill faces a veto threat from White House advisers, who regard the Senate bill as the surest way to speed the needed aid to strapped agencies dealing with the migrant influx.

Hours before the House bill passed, Mr. Trump said that he did not like some of the restrictions that lawmakers were seeking to place on the humanitarian funding, but that he badly needed the resources.

“There are some provisions, I think, that actually are bad for children,” Mr. Trump said in an interview for a coming book about his immigration policies. “There are a couple of points that I would like to get out of it, but I also have to get the money to be able to take care of children and families.”

While the House debated, the administration again overhauled the leadership responsible for border policies, naming an immigration hard-liner and former Fox News contributor as acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. The new acting commissioner, Mark Morgan, has been pushing for the nationwide deportation raids that the president delayed last week. The move continued the turmoil at the Department of Homeland Security, whose senior ranks were purged two months ago.

House Democrats, in approving the aid package, said they were finally acting to block what they saw as Mr. Trump’s cruelty on the border.

“The president’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorize communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only — not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The back-and-forth over the measure highlighted the bitter partisan strife as well as the internal divisions in both parties incited by the president’s immigration agenda, which have been placed in stark relief this week by disturbing images of migrants living in squalor and inhumane conditions. An Associated Press photograph that surfaced on Tuesday of the drowned bodies of a man and his toddler daughter lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande further inflamed the debate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California faced a mini-rebellion in her ranks over the aid measure, with many liberals and Hispanic lawmakers arguing that any bill that sent money to the agencies that have carried out Mr. Trump’s harsh immigration tactics would enable his agenda. Democratic leaders won over many of their reluctant colleagues by tacking on additional health and safety standards and requirements for children and adults held by the government, as well as time limits for holding unaccompanied minors.

Still, four Democrats voted no: Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. The lawmakers, all freshmen, have quickly made names for themselves as outspoken progressives willing to buck their party, often as a bloc.

Republicans were almost uniformly opposed to the bill, which they said contained too many restrictions on the power of immigration agencies and inadequate funding. Only three sided with Democrats to support it: Representatives Will Hurd of Texas, whose district runs along the border; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.

Even as Ms. Pelosi worked to quell the furor of outspoken liberals like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus sat down for lunch with Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff who was once a member of the conservative group on Capitol Hill, and the newly appointed Mr. Morgan, now the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to lobby Mr. Mulvaney to oppose even the Senate’s version.

That aid package, which contains $4.6 billion, would impose many fewer restrictions on the administration, but it does include some constraints on both immigration agencies, such as a limitation on sharing with immigration authorities any information about people who step forward to take custody of unaccompanied migrant children.

In the House, the outcome of the vote remained uncertain until hours before, as leaders and members of the Appropriations Committee haggled over changes needed to win support.

Some liberals remained implacably opposed.

“I don’t slight my colleagues. I don’t think anybody’s making a bad decision here,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “Whenever I have these tough votes, I have to check back in with my district to see how people back home feel, and there was almost universal opposition.”

Others reluctantly went along. Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and a chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she had been persuaded after reaching an agreement on the House floor with Ms. Pelosi and others to include a provision that would require government contractors operating temporary shelters to meet strict standards of care within six months or lose their contract.

“I have tremendous apprehensions about doing so,” Ms. Jayapal said of her decision to support the package. “I am not doing so with a free heart. I am not doing so believing that this is going to solve the problems. I am doing so because I am willing in the name of these children to see if we can do something to improve those conditions at the border.”

[An exclusive from “The Weekly,” a new TV series from The New York Times, on FX and Hulu: Meet the youngest known child taken from his parents at the United States-Mexico border.]

The changes illustrated the power that members of the party’s liberal wing are now wielding to push legislation to the left. Some said they would not vote to send one cent to the agencies that have carried out the president’s harsh immigration policies, even with strings attached to rein in those policies and even if the package is intended to help vulnerable women and children living in badly overcrowded, squalid shelters.

Efforts to meet liberal demands only bolstered House Republican and White House opposition to a spending bill that Mr. Trump initially requested. But they succeeded in getting the measure through the House, sparing Democrats an embarrassing and politically damaging floor defeat.

“I’d hoped this would provide an opportunity to work together in a bipartisan manner,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee. “Instead, this bill tacked further to the left, to satisfy the liberals in the Democratic caucus, who are unwilling to do anything that meets President Trump’s request.”


New York Times