WASHINGTON – A bill to deal with the immigration surge on the U.S.-Mexico border won a temporary reprieve in the Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers maneuvered to offer some response to the crisis before adjourning for the summer.
Senators voted 63-33 to advance the $3.5 billion emergency spending bill over a procedural hurdle. But with Republicans and a few Democrats opposed, there was little expectation that the legislation would prevail with only days left before a recess.
Even if it did, the Senate bill is at odds with a competing measure in the House that has a smaller price tag and includes contentious policy changes the Senate bill ignores. That measure drew a veto threat from the White House on Wednesday.
Republicans called the Senate measure a blank check for President Barack Obama’s failed policies and demanded policy changes opposed by Democrats to send the migrants back home more quickly. The bill also includes hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Western wildfires and $225 million to help Israeli self-defense, but lawmakers were making plans to deal with the money for Israel separately.
Still, Republicans and Democrats alike said the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American youths crossing illegally into South Texas demanded a response. Some Republicans voted in favor of moving forward Wednesday, saying they wanted to open debate on the measure in order to be able to offer amendments, though Democrats were expected to oppose such efforts.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was among 11 Republicans who voted to proceed with the bill. Two red-state Democrats in tough re-election fights – Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana – voted “no.”
The bill includes $2.7 billion for more immigration judges, detention facilities, enforcement measures and other steps to deal with the tens of thousands of youths who’ve been arriving in South Texas without their parents or visas to enter the U.S. It does not include legal changes to permit authorities to turn unaccompanied Central American youths around at the border without deportation hearings that existing law guarantees – a demand that Democrats say would send the kids back to terrible conditions.
Given that disagreement, there appeared to be no clear route to compromise.
House Republicans, meanwhile, were hoping to act on their own solution, a $659 million measure that leaves out the money for wildfires and Israel but includes the legal change to send migrant youths home quickly and would also dispatch National Guard troops to the border.