The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to address the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border with more than $4 billion in supplemental funds and new requirements for the care of detained migrants, especially children.
The 84-8 vote came amid renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration's treatment of minors in its custody and amid widespread revulsion over the deaths of a father and daughter from El Salvador who perished trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States.
"There is no longer any question that the situation along our southern border is a full-blown humanitarian and security crisis," Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said, adding that there was "no excuse" for delay in addressing the situation.
"Inaction is simply not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States," Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said.
The Republican-led Senate approved the bill after voting down a House version that also boosted funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies stretched to the breaking point by border arrivals totaling more than 100,000 a month, the highest numbers recorded in more than a decade.
Although broadly similar, the Senate version is less extensive in regulating the care of detained children. Unlike the House version, it provides $145 million for the Pentagon to assist in border operations.
To reach President Donald Trump's desk, the Senate bill would need to pass the House. But majority-Democrats in the House have signaled they want changes to the bill and plan to introduce them Thursday. As a result, a bicameral committee is expected to be formed to try to hammer out a version that can pass both chambers. Time for swift action is growing short, as Congress will be in recess next week for America's Independence Day holiday.
Speaking with reporters before departing the White House, Trump hailed legislative movement on border funding.
"I believe the House is going to be getting together with the Senate. Hopefully, they can get something done," Trump said.
Earlier in the day, the president once again blamed Democrats for the border crisis, tweeting: "The Democrats should change the Loopholes and Asylum Laws so lives will be saved at our Southern Border. They said it was not a crisis at the Border, that it was all just manufactured.' Now they admit that I was right - But they must do something about it. Fix the Laws NOW!"
On the Senate floor, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fired back.
"We can do something about this [crisis] if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame," Schumer said. "Mr. President, you are the president of the United States. You are head of the executive branch. You control what's happening at the border."
Schumer spoke alongside a blown-up photo, widely distributed by news organizations, of the drowned Salvadoran father and daughter, as reaction poured in across Capitol Hill and beyond.
"I don't want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border," Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. "I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate … to do something."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has faced renewed criticism on Capitol Hill after news reports emerged earlier this week of squalid living conditions at a CBP facility in Texas that houses detained migrant children.
A Senate panel on Wednesday pressed administration officials on the subject.
"What are you doing to actually make sure that children are getting the care and the sanitary conditions and the food that they need?" New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan asked.
The Border Patrol's chief of law enforcement operations, Brian Hastings, responded that detention facilities are being upgraded with shower facilities and increased medical care. He added that more funds are being devoted to basic supplies, such as diapers and baby formula.