McConnell challenges Democrats to pass funds for migrant crisis

Senate will try to pass $4.5B spending bill

By Ted Barrett, Lauren Fox and Sarah Fortinsky, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

(CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Tuesday that the Senate will try to pass a $4.5 billion emergency spending bill to address the burgeoning migrant crisis at the Southern border before funding for a critical program that cares for children runs out of money.

"A week from Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee is going to mark up a bill to deal with crisis at the border, the humanitarian crisis at the border," McConnell said at a news conference where he promised quick floor action once the bill clears committee. "I hope our Democratic friends here in the Senate will at long last follow our lead here and address this very, very significant crisis."

The legislation includes $2.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for handling unaccompanied minors at the border but whose funding will dry up by the end of the month.

McConnell said Democrats had acted "indefensibly" when they insisted those funds be pulled out of a disaster relief bill that was approved last month and said the problem "cannot be solved without "a combination of cooperation from Mexico and cooperation from Democrats."

At issue are policy restrictions House Democrats want to put on the money that Republicans and the administration oppose.

"We cannot give this administration a blank check when time and again it has failed to show it has these children's best interests at heart," said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, in a recent statement. "Ensuring the resources we appropriate are used for their intended purpose and that there are proper legal protections for the kids in our care should not be up for debate."

Shelby said attempts to add policy provisions would not be accepted in the Senate.

"We're talking about $4.5 billion for humanitarian aid and humanitarian aid ought to speak for itself and not put a lot of riders," Shelby told reporters. "If we put a lot of riders, this will never pass."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said objections from House Democrats had stalled the border funds in the prior negotiation but said he is hopeful a compromise can be reached.

"Leahy and Shelby came very close to coming to a deal. The House wasn't for it, but we were," he said referencing Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. "If they negotiate with us in good faith I'm sure we can come to a good compromise and I'm quite confident of that."

With a deadline looming, the pressure will grow on negotiators to cut a deal. Democrats have leverage because the control the House. Republicans have leverage because they control the White House and the Senate, although Democratic support in the Senate is key because any measure would need 60 votes to pass the chamber.

A Democratic House aide said Senate Republicans have not consulted or collaborated with them on the bill to be taken up in the Senate committee next week. The House is likely to push its own bill before the end of the month, meaning there could be competing bills that would have to be reconciled.

The fight over spending at the border could set the stage for the fight to come this fall when lawmakers must meet a new spending deadline to fund the government. Top leaders have just a matter of months to negotiate a new package including setting caps for spending in the next fiscal year. A bitter fight to fund the crisis at the border could foreshadow things to come in those larger negotiations.

In fact, McConnell and Shelby were supposed to meet to discuss spending issues with top administration officials, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, but the meeting was canceled about Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had a scheduling conflict. That meeting is supposed to be rescheduled soon, Shelby said.

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.