House lawmakers trade accusations amid scramble to pass $4.5B border bill: 'Playing games'

House lawmakers traded accusations Tuesday over a troubled $4.5 billion funding bill to combat the escalating humanitarian crisis at the border -- with Republicans accusing Democrats of “playing games” with the crisis, and Democrats urging their GOP counterparts to “show some decency.”

“We are urging our colleagues on the other side of aisle to show some decency, show some strength, stop acting like you’re part of a cult and start acting like a separate and co-equal branch of government that has a responsibility to allocate funds in a humane manner,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said at a press conference.

Both the House and the Senate are scrambling to vote on the crucial funding ahead of the July 4 recess, amid reports of poor living conditions in government shelters and even deaths of child migrants as growing migrant flows flood across the border.


More than 144,000 migrants were encountered or apprehended at the border in May, many of them unaccompanied minors or family units, severely complicating efforts to house or deport them. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says the money to address humanitarian concerns at the border and in detention facilities runs out at the end of the month.

But the House measure has generated a White House veto threat. It is stricter than the Senate version of the bill -- which has bipartisan support -- in making sure that money cannot be used for certain immigration enforcement, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds or funding for Pentagon assistance to the enforcement effort.

“Appropriators have guaranteed that this money cannot be transferred, so it cannot be used for mass deportations, it cannot be used for an ICE deportation force,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas said. “They have safeguarded the funding that we are going to appropriate today so it is used for the purposes we intend for it to be used for -- beds, blankets, diapers, food, legal assistance.”

Republicans, though, accused House Democrats of “playing politics” and called on them to back the bipartisan Senate version instead.

“I’m calling on the speaker not to play politics, to take the Senate bill and that can become law, and that can help humanitarian aid along the border,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said at a Republican press conference. “This is not the time to play politics.”

McCarthy acknowledged that the Senate bill “is not the total solution to the problem,” but he believes it will get bipartisan support in the House if given a chance.

“Speaker Pelosi is determining whether the aid to the border gets shut down, or whether we have a solution that can be voted on and move to the president’s desk. It’s her alone that’s playing politics on this.”


On Monday night, the White House issued a statement saying it would veto the House bill in its current state, citing the restrictions on the funding.

“After ignoring the Administration’s request for desperately needed funding to address the humanitarian crisis at the border for over a month, and despite the efforts of the House minority, the House majority has put forward a partisan bill that underfunds necessary accounts and seeks to take advantage of the current crisis by inserting policy provisions that would make our country less safe,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

In particular, the White House pointed to the failure of both the Senate and House bills to provide funding for detention beds, as well as the House bill’s failure to include funding for equipment and courtroom space to support the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) -- which returns illegal immigrant to Mexico while proceedings are held. It also cites a measure that it says hampers HHS' ability to increase its capacity to hold child migrants.

The Senate bill has some bipartisan support by including some funding for Defense Department assistance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Tuesday there was "no reason, no excuse" that the Senate version shouldn't pass the chamber with bipartisan support.

House Democratic leadership, while challenging Republicans, was also trying to assuage jumpy liberals in its own ranks who had objected that the bill didn’t do enough to challenge the Trump administration’s policies amid reports of poor conditions in detention centers and even children dying in care.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said after a meeting of House Democrats on Monday: “We cannot continue to throw money at a dysfunctional system. We are not just asking for simple changes to be made into this bill, but to go back to the drawing board and really address this from a humanitarian issue.”

The House Rules Committee was scheduled to meet late Tuesday morning, and Fox News is told the bill is still in need of some tweaks before advancing to an expected House vote in the afternoon. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that Democratic leadership said they believe they have the votes to pass the bill.

“I think it’s ready to go now...I encourage all of my members not to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.


But even if both the House and the Senate passed their respective measures, it is not clear that lawmakers will be able to blend the bills into one measure and approve that within a few days.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Ronn Blitzer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.