Border funding bill passes U.S. House; Texans vote along party lines

A legislative measure that will fund part of a border wall passed the U.S. House on Thursday, but its prospects in the U.S. Senate look grim. 

A section of border fence near Brownsville.

Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday passed about $800 billion in federal spending, including $1.6 billion worth of funding that will go toward constructing a border wall. 

While there is almost no chance this legislation will become law, Republican lawmakers can head back to their home districts pointing to the wall funding as a legislative step toward a tenet of the Trump presidential campaign.

“I am proud to say that the defense appropriations bill we advanced today begins the process of putting our country’s security on the right path, and I urge the Senate to take it up and pass it quickly," said U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, who was a key mover of the bill. 

"I am proud of the hard work of the Appropriations Committee as well as all of the Members who worked to make this bill better and better with their thoughts and ideas that they brought to the Rules Committee," concurred U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who runs the consequential U.S. House Rules Committee, in a Thursday statement.

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The border wall measure was one of several spending bills passed this week, and combined, they will increase funding at the Department of Defense, care for veterans and on security for lawmakers in the wake of the June shooting at a Congressional baseball practice that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise seriously wounded. 

The measure that featured the border wall provision passed on a party-line vote from within the Texas delegation: All Republicans backed it, and all Democrats opposed it. 

Border lawmakers from Texas’ congressional delegation decried the vote as a “legislative gimmick” used so lawmakers could avoid an up-or-down vote on a stand-alone bill to fund the wall.

They decried what they saw as strong-arming members and wrapping the funding into a defense spending bill. In effect, they said, it forces Democrats to choose between an outdated measure that would do nothing to help secure the border and supporting the country’s armed forces.

“This is simply wrong. Not only is President Trump’s border wall expensive and unnecessary, Members of Congress who care deeply about our national defense shouldn’t be forced to decide between voting for this nonsensical proposal and voting to fund our military,” members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which includes U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, wrote to Sessions.

El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke took to Twitter to argue the move was another sign the Democratic process was being hijacked by Trump loyalists.

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“If you think the system is rigged in Congress - you're absolutely right. How else do you explain this?” he posted.

And in further defiance of what he’s called an unnecessary physical barrier on the southern border, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, on Thursday introduced legislation that would instead call for a ”smart” wall over a physical barrier.

The Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to use technology secure the border. It would also allocate an additional $110 million to coordinate border-security efforts between federal and state, local and tribal officials. Cuellar is a co-author of the proposed legislation.

“Violent drug cartels are using more modern technology to breach our border than what we are using to secure it,” Hurd said in a news release. “We can’t double down on a Third Century approach to solve 21st Century problems if we want a viable long-term solution.” 

As senior members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock and Granger, were key legislators in moving the bill through the chamber.

And despite the House Democratic ire, their Senate counterparts are far more empowered and are likely to inhibit border wall measures. 

As a result, these spending measures could well lay the groundwork for a government shutdown on or around Oct. 1. 

The fight over the funding comes as apprehensions of unaccompanied children on the southwest border have dropped since the current federal fiscal year began in October. From October 2016 to June 30 of this year, apprehensions have dipped by about 25 percent compared to the same time period last fiscal year. It includes a 34 and 24 percent decline in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo and Rio Grande Valley sectors, respectively, according to the most recent Customs and Border Protection statistics.

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But the number of family units, which the federal government describes as at least one parent or guardian and one minor child, has increased by about 25 percent. Those figures include a 43 percent decrease in the Laredo sector but a 24 percent increase in the Rio Grande Valley, which was the epicenter of the migrant surge that began in 2014.  

This could be one of the last votes of the summer for the U.S. House of Representatives. Members expect to return to their districts on Friday. 

However, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy notified members to keep their schedules flexible over the weekend in the event the U.S. Senate passes a health care overhaul.