WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be the most powerful Democrat in America, but she just got rolled on an emergency border-funding measure by President Trump and Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But Pelosi doesn’t seem to be leaving the battle with too many scars. Rather, many rank-and-file House Democrats are now turning their ire toward Senate Democrats who they feel betrayed their party’s principles and prematurely caved to GOP demands.
“Oh, I think she got sabotaged by the Senate,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “It’s what the Senate does — all the time.”
When VICE News asked New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the growing frustration with the Senate, she let out a hearty laugh — as if it were the understatement of the year.
“Oh, my God!” she said. “I sense this across ideology in the caucus that people are just exacerbated with – I think there’s a real sense that Senate Dems haven’t been fighting the way they should.”
Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses twisted Pelosi’s arm earlier in the week and threatened to withhold their support of the more than $4.5 billion emergency measure to infuse money into the numerous agencies who report running dangerously low on funds as they combat an unprecedented emergency at the southern border.
The speaker heard their threats and ultimately caved to their demands. The House measure, which passed largely along party lines, would have required the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to set out minimum health and safety standards for anyone in their custody, establish new protocols to deal with the influx of thousands of migrants at once and would force the Department of Health and Human Services to no longer hold migrant children for more than 90 days.
It would also require that agency to report to lawmakers on how it’s using “influx” centers to hold these kids and babies.
On Tuesday, she got a bill out of her chamber in order to beat McConnell to the punch, which was supposed to increase her chamber’s leverage. But it didn’t. The Senate passed its own funding measure Wednesday by a lopsided vote of 84-8, with all but six Democrats and two Republicans supporting it.
In the end, Ocasio-Cortez and three other progressive freshmen (Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan) were the only Democrats to oppose the House legislation. Still, she says the frustration lies mostly with the members of their own party who wield considerable power in the upper chamber.
“They gave McConnell all this leverage to call this bill bipartisan when it’s a horrifying piece of legislation”
“They gave McConnell all this leverage to call this bill bipartisan when it’s a horrifying piece of legislation,” Ocasio-Cortez continued as she walked back to her office from the Capitol. “There’s real frustration. There’s a real sense that House Dems are the ones doing the work, and Senate Dems aren’t pulling their weight.”
In spite of seeing images of dead bodies of refugees washed up on American soil along with heartbreaking reports of children being forced to care for other children in cold, torture chamber-like conditions, most Democrats ended up supporting the Senate measure because of the dire humanitarian need. It sailed through the House after more moderate Democrats started to break ranks.
“We all want more. We all want more controls, because this president abuses his power constantly,” Rep. Speier told VICE News. “But right now I want to get food and hygiene products to these people. They say everyone is sick. I mean...It is an emergency.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout even progressive circles in the House, including powerful members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I understand that we want to make it what we want it to be, but 84 senators voted for it, so it just makes sense to take their bill so that we can go home and at least feel like we’ve done something to help people in need,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) told VICE News at the Capitol.
Still, the newest and loudest progressive voices in the House — who have massive national followings — weren’t buying that line of argument. Ocasio-Cortez told VICE News that McConnell and the Trump White House stacked the deck from the beginning and only brought up the House bill Wednesday so he could watch it fail. Which it did. And which is why she fears party leaders were duped once again.
“I don’t understand why there was ever any indication or hope that Mitch McConnell was going to bring a House version of this to a vote. I truly don’t understand,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I question whether they think they’re negotiating with a normal government or not, because I think they think that this is a normal government, and it’s so clearly not. And I think that’s why folks are getting caught on their back foot a lot.”
Cover: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks towards the House chamber for a vote June 27, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Pelosi said she will bring the Senate version of a $4.5 billion bill on combating the humanitarian crisis at the southern border to the House floor for a vote after initially saying she wanted to reconcile the House and Senate versions. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)