WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed Republicans in the House for stalling efforts of Congress to deal with the crisis of children flocking to the border, saying the representatives were hamstrung by their own "crazy ideas."
"I think that if you are focusing on the House, they are going very bad over there because the Republicans can't agree what they want," Reid said. "The Democrats aren't going to support some of their crazy ideas and the Republicans can't agree which crazy idea they want to put forward. Over here, my caucus is doing just fine."
Asked if the Senate could have a vote on a bill being worked up by the Senate Appropriations Committee by next week, well before Congress takes its August vacation, Reid suggested Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have to keep his own members in line.
"I need a little help from my Republican friends," Reid said. McConnell raised no objections to proceeding to a vote, although he did raise his familiar objection that his side would want to have votes on amendments of their choosing.
Reid continued to oppose proposals to tweak the 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush that puts unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada through immigration hearings to determine if they're eligible to stay. Given the current influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally this fiscal year, Republicans and some Democrats say the law is unsustainable and must be amended to allow the government to deport children more quickly. The Obama administration supports making such changes. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson confirmed in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the administration was "in active discussions with Congress" about changing the 2008 law to allow for faster removals.
But Reid and most of his fellow Democrats argue the administration could still speed up the process under current law without making amendments that give minors less due process.
"I feel that the president has sufficient leeway under the terms of the legislation," Reid said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized the president earlier Tuesday for not pushing his party to accept changes to the 2008 law. House Republicans are working on their own recommendations for funding to deal with the border crisis, but have indicated they will suggest far less funding than the $3.7 billion requested by Obama. The House GOP working group on the border issue plans to recommend changing the 2008 law.
"I don't believe the American people will support sending more money to the border unless both parties work together to address these policies and actually solve this problem," Boehner said in a statement. "The lack of leadership from this White House, and President Obama's refusal to stand up to critics in his own political party, are jeopardizing our ability to find common ground and help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis."
Republicans have made a number of proposals related to the border, most of them involving changing the 2008 law and increasing border security efforts. The most extreme proposal is from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who introduced a bill last week that would require the president to stop any administrative actions that grant temporary relief to undocumented immigrants who are already in the country. It specifically would target any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which helps young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children years ago. The only Republican bill introduced that has bipartisan support is one from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) that would change the 2008 law.
Neither McConnell nor Cornyn explicitly endorsed the Cruz idea, but they said it deserved a vote.
Senate Democrats have not yet introduced their own plan for funding for the border crisis, but Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) reportedly told colleagues at their weekly meeting on Tuesday that her bill would provide about $2.7 billion in supplementary funding -- $1 billion less than Obama requested. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the funding amount.
Mikulski said Monday that they would move on the issue either late this week or early next week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the Senate should act quickly. She is working on a bill that would provide the DHS with more flexibility to address the crisis, and was in the process of reviewing language submitted to her by Johnson, but said it should be done separately, after the funding request is approved.
"The supplemental ought to go through right away. It's an emergency," Feinstein said. "There isn't anybody that has anything to do with the border that doesn't believe there isn't an emergency."
"As Secretary Johnson said to me, 'I'm going to run out of money by the end of the month,'" she added. "Now that's pretty simple."
UPDATE: 6:20 p.m. -- Mikulski anounced later she would roll out her legislation Wednesday, and include in it provisions to battle raging wildfires and to help Israel:
Tomorrow, I plan to introduce Emergency Supplemental Funding legislation that will provide funds to meet urgent needs, including fighting wildfires, helping our close ally Israel continue its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and addressing the crisis of children seeking refuge by the tens of thousands along our Southwestern border.
The United States has an obligation to help resolve these crises, but is running out of money. The costs are real and urgent. We don’t save money by refusing to act or through delay. Without this Emergency Supplemental Funding bill, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service will run out of funds to meet these needs as early as August.
The bill is a responsible solution. It provides a total of $3.57 billion to meet essential and immediate needs. The total amount of the President’s request will be needed. However, based on a review of what is needed in calendar year 2014 to meet needs at the border, the bill reduces the President’s request by $1 billion.
This bill provides $615 million to suppress dangerous and devastating wildfires. Already this year, more than 30,000 fires have raged across the nation from Florida to California. In Oregon and Washington State, firefighters are battling 20 major fires. The largest of these blazes, Washington’s Carlton Complex Fire, is burning more than 237,000 acres. We cannot stand idly by while lives and livelihoods are at stake.
This bill also provides $225 million to accelerate production for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Hamas has launched more than 2,000 missiles at Israel from Gaza in the current conflict. The Iron Dome has saved lives by intercepting 90 percent of these rockets. Israel is an essential American ally and needs these assets to defend itself.
Finally, this bill provides $2.73 billion to address the crisis of children seeking refuge at our Southwestern border. Already 60,000 children have arrived. More than 90,000 are expected by the end of this year. These children are not the threat. They are seeking refuge from the threat: violence from organized crime, gangs, and vile human traffickers in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
This is a funding bill, so it does not include immigration legislation.
I believe this bill provides the most effective path forward to meet our nation’s obligation to protect the safety and health of the children seeking refuge, speed determination of their asylum status, and create a strategy to go after the smugglers, crime, and violence that are driving children and families from their home countries.
I agree with the President that this is an emergency under the law. I hope the Senate will move forward swiftly to consider it before more people suffer as a result of these growing crises.