WASHINGTON ― House progressives showed Speaker Nancy Pelosi they had the power to drag legislation further to the left. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing them he has the power to make them irrelevant.
After the House passed an emergency border supplemental bill on Tuesday 234-195, the Senate passed its own version of the $4.5 billion legislation on Wednesday 84-8.
While the two versions of the measure differ in some key ways ― for instance, the House bill limits how long unaccompanied migrant children could stay at a detention facility without Congress being notified ― the bipartisan vote in the Senate has strengthened McConnell’s hand to effectively ignore the House legislation and demand that Pelosi put the Senate’s legislation up for a vote.
“There’s no other way to get it funded other than take up the Senate bill,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday.
But Pelosi is, at least for the moment, holding firm. The speaker told reporters on Wednesday there’s “no” chance the House will take up the Senate bill without certain changes.
“They pass their bill, we respect that. We passed our bill, we hope they would respect that. And there are some improvements that we think can be reconciled,” Pelosi said after speaking with Trump on the phone about the border legislation.
Trump, who’s said he wouldn’t sign the House bill, suggested the two sides were making progress on Wednesday.
“I believe the House is getting together with the Senate. Hopefully they can get something done,” Trump said, as he departed the White House to attend the G-20 summit in Japan.
“I think Nancy wants to get something done,” he said.
Pelosi has apparently zeroed in on four specific changes she wants in the Senate language to make it more palatable to House Democrats. HuffPost overheard Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) talking to members about the four demands after votes on Wednesday. When we approached Wasserman Schultz about the changes, she refused to discuss the negotiations.
“I wasn’t talking to you, and that was not on the record,” she said, before claiming that we shouldn’t be in an elevator open to the press.
Pelosi may want the changes, but there’s little indication McConnell needs to give them to her.
For one, the Senate gave the House version of the border bill a vote on Wednesday. The measure failed 37-55. And when the Senate voted on the version drafted by Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the vote was overwhelming.
“We worked hard on our bill,” Leahy told reporters on Wednesday, calling it a “good compromise.” The Vermont senator said he expected the final product to resemble their bill.
GOP aides expect that, if Pelosi were to put the Senate bill on the floor, it would also pass overwhelmingly, with almost every Republican in support.
The question is how many House progressives would vote no.
While progressives were able to demand changes to the House bill after threatening to sink the legislation, Republicans would likely more than make up for their lost votes ― if they even chose to vote no.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of the most prominent progressives in the House, told HuffPost on Wednesday that he was at least “open” to the idea of supporting the Senate version once he’s reviewed the final bill.
“We have to do something,” Khanna said. “We have to get a bill passed. The democratic process is one of pushing as much as we can for our views, and then working to get the best we can.”
Khanna held out hope that Pelosi could get some of the changes progressives had won in the House bill ― “We’ll see if she can reinsert any of them back in,” he said ― but he understood the bind the speaker was in.
Other progressives may be a little less understanding of Pelosi’s position. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said he didn’t know why the House and Senate couldn’t go to conference to hash out their differences, and he expressed concern that Congress would be approving more money for detention camps without ensuring the money will go to better conditions for undocumented immigrants.
“It’s important that you have standards for these camps,” Lieu said. “You can’t keep funding a system that is treating children inhumanely.”
But Democrats are short on time with the July Fourth recess coming up, and they aren’t in the strongest position to negotiate after the big-margin vote in the Senate. Pelosi is clearly fighting for some changes, but whatever she wins probably won’t be enough for some Democrats.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who was one of four Democrats to vote against the House version of the bill, probably won’t be satisfied by any compromise language, though she told HuffPost Wednesday that she expected Pelosi and other leaders to at least push for the House language.
“I do expect there to be a fight for the House version,” Ocasio-Cortez said, continuing that the difference between the House and Senate bills was “night and day.”
But again, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t vote for the House version. And Republicans are adamant they can supply more than enough votes to account for any lost support among progressives.
The House extended the authority to pass bills through an expedited process with a higher margin until the end of the week ― essentially, the House suspends its normal rules and can pass a bill without debate with two-thirds majority.
Still, Democrats haven’t given in just yet. Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) suggested Wednesday afternoon that Democrats might hold a special caucus meeting late that night, after the bipartisan Congressional Baseball Game. And Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told HuffPost to not assume the House would just take the Senate version, or that the House and Senate wouldn’t go to conference.
“Nothing’s impossible,” he said.