WASHINGTON — In the end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to cave.
Faced with a rebellion from moderates in her own party — as well as Republicans in both chambers who wouldn’t give in to a single provision — Pelosi pulled a border aid bill on Thursday that many House Democrats preferred and passed the Senate version of the legislation 305-102, with 95 Democrats and seven Republicans voting no.
On Tuesday, the House passed a bill aimed at addressing the humanitarian crisis involving undocumented immigrants detained at the border. The vote was mostly along party lines, 234-195. The next day, the Senate passed its own bipartisan version of the bill, drafted by Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, 84-8.
In retrospect, that was the moment when Pelosi lost. The California Democrat said there was no chance the House would simply pass the Senate bill. Instead, she said Democrats would pass a new bill with only a few changes to the Senate legislation. Those changes would have put additional restrictions on how the administration could spend the about $4.5 billion in the bill and would mandate basic conditions for border detention facilities ― provisions that progressives fought earlier this week to make sure were in the House legislation.
But about a dozen and a half moderates in the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus said they would vote no on the new Democratic bill. Republicans in the House had also shown a resolve to not go along with anything but the Senate bill, which President Donald Trump said was the only border aid measure he would sign.
That left Pelosi without the votes to pass even her compromise legislation, and she was forced to pull the bill from floor consideration. From there, the only thing the speaker could do — if she wanted to pass a border bill before the July Fourth recess — was put the Senate bill up for a vote.
“In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”
“We will not engage in the same disrespectful behavior that the Senate did in ignoring our priorities,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats on Thursday. “In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”
“The children come first,” Pelosi added. “At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available.”
Democrats were adamant that the children should come first, but not everyone was in agreement that Democrats should give in to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans.
Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked in a tweet Thursday when the Problem Solvers Caucus had become “the Child Abuse Caucus.”
“Wouldn’t they want to at least fight against contractors who run deplorable facilities? Kids are the only ones who could lose today,” Pocan said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also criticized the decision to pass the Senate bill, tweeting that “under no circumstances” should the House vote on the Senate bill without negotiations. “Hell no,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That’s an abdication of power we should refuse to accept. They will keep hurting kids if we do.”
But Pelosi’s decision to pass the Senate bill was an acknowledgment that no amount of time was going to make McConnell give in. The Senate majority leader was adamant that Republicans would not negotiate.
“We did not, in the end, continue to play political games over this,” McConnell said. “They did. And it’s their problem to solve.”
He noted that Pelosi had spent time on Thursday talking to Vice President Mike Pence about ensuring that at least some of the Democratic requests could be handled administratively. It’s unclear whether Pelosi received any assurances in that regard, but the guardrails to stop the administration from transferring funds to other border purposes or to establish standards for treating children detained at the border aren’t in the Senate bill.