Emergency funding for detained migrants clears Congress

The House on Thursday passed a Senate-approved version of the funding bill after attempts to make changes failed.
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Migrants jump over the border wall to cross into the United States from Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on June 22, 2019.Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell, Alex Moe and Kelly O'Donnell

WASHINGTON — After months of stalemate and a week of intense intraparty Democratic negotiations, the House of Representatives has passed a $4.6 billion emergency funding bill to provide resources and support for the influx of asylum-seekers on the southern border, sending the measure to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature.

The vote came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to cede to Senate Republicans and the Trump administration on a version of the measure that included fewer protections for migrants than Democrats were seeking. The House passed the bill in a 305-102 vote.

“The children come first. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available,” Pelosi acknowledged in a letter to her Democratic House colleagues. “In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure Wednesday, putting pressure on House Democrats to accept their version as lawmakers raced to wrap up work ahead of the July Fourth recess.

A turning point for Pelosi’s negotiation came Thursday afternoon when a group of moderate Democrats said they would no longer engage in negotiations and that they would only support the Senate-passed bill.

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In an hourlong phone call with Vice President Mike Pence, Pelosi informed him that the House would accept the Senate bill.

The vice president, in return, assured Pelosi that the administration would make two administrative changes: notifying Congress within 24 hours of the death of a migrant child and a 90-day limit on the length of time a child can stay in an “influx” facility, which is the first place the migrants are sent once they cross the border.

Progressive Democrats reacted angrily to Pelosi's decision to put the Senate bill up for a vote.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted that “under no circumstances” should the House hold the vote.

But the math proved too much for Pelosi to overcome and Democrats simply didn’t have the votes or the time to carry on with the impasse before the holiday week.

The position taken by the 23 Democrats from swing or Republican-leaning districts who are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus left Pelosi without the votes to pass additional protections.

"The Senate bill is a good, bipartisan bill that got passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. It is an emergency on the border right now. We need to get money to the border as soon as possible," Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said.

The bill, which was months in the works, is an attempt to refill depleted coffers of federal agencies who had been holding asylum-seeking children and families who crossed the border from Mexico.

"It should not have been so hard to do this," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after he insisted that the Senate would not entertain any changes to its measure that passed 84-8. "We did not continue to play these political games over this humanitarian crisis. They did."

The bill doesn’t change immigration law or policy and does not contain any funding for the president's proposed border wall.

Hallie Jackson contributed.