The House approved legislation late Friday that would provide $694 million in new funding to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern U.S. border, sending it to a Senate that began its August break without passing its own border proposal, and with no plans to consider the House bill.
Members of the House managed to approve the measure in a 223-189 vote, just a day after Republicans had to abandon it in the absence of enough GOP support. In the final vote, just four Republicans opposed the bill, which included several significant changes from the original bill.
After GOP leaders pulled the bill Thursday, several Republicans insisted on holding a vote before leaving for the August break. Republican leaders quickly made adjustments to the legislation to ensure enough Republican support.
The hastily scheduled House vote led to some sharp political exchanges throughout the day. Republicans noted that despite their difficulties in getting to a final vote, the House at least continued working — unlike the Senate, which started a five-week break without passing anything.
“We stayed here and we’re going to continue to work through the problem, present a product, hopefully the Senate will come back and do the same,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.)
Democrats responded by accusing Republicans of pushing a legislation proposal that would punish children seeking asylum in the United States. Some went so far as to accuse the GOP of trying to send children back to their deaths in Central America.
“House Republicans have truly lost their way,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.
And while Democrats closed down the Senate without making any progress, President Barack Obama blamed House Republicans for stalling the process by pushing legislation that both the Senate and the White House opposes.
Obama said earlier in the day that with no agreement in Congress, he would “have to act alone” to reassign funding to ensure border operations can continue. The administration has said funding for key border operations would expire in mid-August unless Congress acts.
Passage of the funding bill in the House set up passage of another bill aimed at preventing Obama from expanding amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. That vote was expected late Friday night.
One key change made to the spending bill was the addition of $35 million in new money to reimburse states that have used or will use the National Guard to secure the border. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) asked months ago that his state be reimbursed for the money it has spent doing the job the federal government should be doing.
Broadly, the bill would fund efforts to detain, process and adjudicate the thousands of unaccompanied minors that have crossed the border this year. But it would also change a 2008 human trafficking law to allow children from Central America to be quickly processed, using the same faster process applied to children from Mexico and Canada.
Language in this area was tweaked over the last day to further streamline the processing of unaccompanied immigrant children. Several Republicans said the earlier version overly complicated the process and could have led to more processing delays.
That, they feared, could have maintained the perception that children who make it to the United States get to stay for months or even years — Republicans have said the perception of amnesty is what has created the massive spike in illegal immigrants.
Elsewhere, the bill was changed to prevent the Secretary of Defense from placing illegal immigrants at military installations if going so would displace members of the military.
As passed, the legislation would require Attorney General Eric Holder to hire new immigration judges to deal with the processing of illegal immigrants. Before the vote, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said he would oppose the bill because he can’t agree to give Holder that authority given that he has been found in contempt of Congress.
The four Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Paul Broun (Ga.), Tom Massie (Ky.), Stephen Fincher (Tenn.) and Walter Jones (N.C.). One Democrat who has been critical of Obama’s handling of the border, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), voted for it.