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House Passes $4.6 Billion Bill To Send Humanitarian Aid To The Southern Border


Today the House passed a $4.6 billion bill to send humanitarian aid to the southern border. This is the legislation the Senate approved Wednesday. So it will now be sent to President Trump to sign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the president supports the bill. Someone who did not support the bill, however, is Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan. He's co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

MARK POCAN: Oh, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: You supported the House version of this bill that passed on Tuesday. And yet, you did not support this legislation. What happened?

POCAN: Well, we had a much better version that came out of the House. And unfortunately, the Senate apparently didn't want to even consider trying to negotiate some of the things that we had added. We had things in there that made sure that the Flores Agreement Settlement would apply to all facilities. In other words, conditions would have to be improved across all facilities at the border.

We also had a provision in there that if a contractor didn't live up to the provisions, they could lose their contract, which is an important hammer to have in place. And unfortunately, that and other language that made the bill much better weren't considered. And that's why 95 Democrats decided this wasn't the right way to go.

CORNISH: But there were some compromises, right? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence spoke today. And Pence agreed to administrative changes, which would be notifying Congress within 24 hours if there's a death of a child in custody; also to a 90-day limit for child detention at an influx facility. Why didn't that move the bill closer to something you could vote for?

POCAN: The administration has lied to us over and over on the border. The president has used children at the border like pawns in order to get his border wall. Why would I think that this is the time he's going to actually hold the football when we go to kick it? There's absolutely no past experience that would tell us that this is the time he's going to be honest. And we needed to have that actually in the law.

But unfortunately, people were more in a rush, I think, to get home than to do the right thing for the children at the border. And that's why many of us were not happy with today's action.

CORNISH: But let me jump in here. Would no money have been better than not getting what you wanted in the bill?

POCAN: I think if we would've stayed 24 hours more, we would have saw that it made sense to take away a contract from a firm that's violating (unintelligible) humanitarian...

CORNISH: You think there would have been a change in votes.

POCAN: I think - oh, absolutely. That was one of the most important provisions we had.

CORNISH: 'Cause you called this bill the child abuse caucus in a tweet - so obviously, tensions are high. I mean, some people are feeling like - look - we need to pass something because this is about aiding people who have humanitarian needs.

POCAN: And all it would have taken, I truly believe, is about 24 hours more. How could someone in the Senate say it didn't make sense to take away a contract from a firm that got the conditions that doesn't give you soap and toothpaste when you're paying $700 a day for that child. Certainly, the Trump Hotel provides those amenities. I think we could provide that for kids at the border.

CORNISH: What's your alternative now? How do you plan to address, for instance, that concern going forward?

POCAN: Well, we still haven't done the appropriations bill for Homeland Security. And I think we've got some possibilities to still try to get language in there. But I think it was a really dominant vote. You had more Republicans than Democrats vote for this today in the House of Representatives even though the Democrats are in control. I think it sends a strong message that 95 of us want to have something better in place, and we're going to continue to fight for that.

CORNISH: That's Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. Thank you for speaking with us.

POCAN: Absolutely. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.