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Pelosi: To woo Trump, border aid likely will be attached to disaster relief bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a weekly news conference on Thursday, May 16, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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By JENNIFER SHUTT | CQ-Roll Call | Published: May 16, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — An emerging multibillion-dollar disaster aid package will likely include humanitarian assistance to address the surge of migrants across the southern border, an element that could garner the Trump administration’s support.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that lawmakers are planning to add funding to the unreleased package that would help stem the “humanitarian crisis.”

“What is happening at the border is tragic and we hope to address some of that in the supplemental that is coming — the disaster supplemental,” she said during a news conference.

Pelosi criticized the Trump administration for making matters worse through various immigration policies but said Congress would not deny funds that are needed to ensure human dignity.

The announcement could help end months of debate about how to craft a bipartisan disaster aid package to help people recover from severe weather during 2018 and the first part of 2019.

Lawmakers had been stuck on how much aid to include for Puerto Rico and how to speed up delivery of billions of dollars from previous aid packages. But more recently negotiators hit a logjam over the insistence from the White House that the package include provisions from its $4.5 billion supplemental spending request.

That proposal, sent to Congress earlier this month, includes $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance, with $2.9 billion of that for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide housing and medical care for unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The White House said that money is needed by next month or the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement would be forced to siphon funds from anti-human trafficking programs and other priorities.

Another $391 million in the White House request would go toward Department of Homeland Security border processing facilities where migrant families would be provided with temporary shelter, food and medical attention.

Other parts of the request, such as money to expand Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention capacity and help the Pentagon provide logistical support to the Border Patrol, have run into more concerns among Democrats.

Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Thursday that she hopes additional funds to expand ICE’s detention beds are included in the supplemental. But she said if that would hinder the package’s ability to pass she’s not opposed to leaving out that component.

“I know in talking with the acting secretary that we’re stretched to capacity on beds, and especially when you look at the numbers of families that are coming across — we had 108,000 people just last month alone. And I know that this is a sticking point. I certainly know with (Rep.) Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who is my counterpart on the House side, this is something she is concerned about,” Capito said.

“I think we need take what we can get because we really need help, it is a crisis. I’d like to fill out the full compliment of the beds, but if we can’t, I think we need to get as much as we can with the humanitarian aid for HHS,” she added.

Pelosi’s statement Thursday is somewhat different from one her second-in-command gave Wednesday when he said that lawmakers wanted more time to review the supplemental ask from the White House.

“We believe that the disaster relief ought to pass now and we need to take a little bit of time to find out what the additional $4.5 billion is for. We don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said.

But Pelosi’s comments align with those of Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., Wednesday evening when he said that some humanitarian assistance was likely to be included in the disaster aid bill.

“If it’s humanitarian things there’s a pretty good chance, I think, to do some because they’re being overwhelmed, children especially,” the Alabama Republican said about the influx of adults and children at the southern border. “The humanitarian piece, I would think, would have a good chance … to stay in” a disaster bill, he said.

The House passed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill last week that seems likely to serve as a vehicle for the Senate to attach a substitute being worked out by Shelby and Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. The Senate is expected to vote next week on an aid package before leaving town for the Memorial Day recess.

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