Senate to try to pass border aid on Wednesday, McConnell says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will consider legislation to address the migrant surge at the border with Mexico later on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

McConnell told the chamber the Senate will take up the $4.5 billion funding legislation that the House of Representatives approved on Tuesday afternoon. If that does not pass the Senate, he said the Senate will then debate and vote on its own $4.6 billion version of the bill.

Trump on May 1 requested the aid for programs that house, feed, transport and oversee record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum in the United States and straining capacity at migrant shelters in border cities.

Before approving their bill Tuesday, the Democratic-majority House added new health and nutrition standards for migrants in custody as well as other restrictions on U.S. immigration agencies following reports of poor conditions facing young children at overcrowded facilities.

The House bill is considered unlikely to pass the Republican-majority Senate, especially since a super-majority of 60 votes will be required for passage of any of the legislation according to the agreement under which it is being brought to the Senate floor.

McConnell, a Republican, earlier Tuesday denounced what he called “poison pills” in the House version, and President Donald Trump, a Republican, has threatened to veto it.

The Senate bill lacks the restrictions on agencies that the House added Tuesday. But it includes money – left out by the House – to pay overtime for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees. It also includes $145 million to help the Defense Department cover costs related to existing Pentagon operations at the border that Trump ordered.

The Senate version passed that chambers’ appropriations committee recently on a bipartisan 30-1 vote, and it is expected to get strong bipartisan support on the Senate floor.

If it is passed, the two chambers will have to work out their differences before sending legislation to Trump to sign into law. This could force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into a difficult position, as she had to work hard over the last two days to convince many progressive Democrats to back the House bill, and they may not warm to the Senate version.

Discussions between the White House and leading lawmakers had already begun, even ahead of the Senate vote. Pelosi called Trump on Tuesday afternoon to “try to reconcile” the House and Senate border aid bills, and they talked for 15 minutes, a senior Democratic aide said.

Meanwhile Trump told reporters he believed Pelosi “wants to get something done,” and he was optimistic about a congressional solution to the legislation.

The Senate bill refuses Trump’s request for more money for ICE detention beds to hold immigrants, including children, for extended periods of time. It also prohibits officials from using any of the appropriated funds for other purposes.

The measure prohibits ICE from going after undocumented immigrants based on information obtained from potential sponsors of children who arrive at the U.S. border without relatives. Supporters of the Senate bill hope provisions such as these will make it more attractive to House Democrats.

Lawmakers are hurrying to pass legislation before going on a one-week recess next week. Their action follows an outcry over conditions at the border. Attorneys raised alarms last week after finding more than 300 migrant children in an overcrowded Texas border patrol station, where they said some had been held for weeks in squalid conditions without adequate food and water.

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