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Outside the Beltway

THE CRISIS WILL CONTINUE: The House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid bill last night to provide additional resources for migrant children languishing in U.S. custody at overcrowded facilities along the border. But critics say the measures Congress is considering will do little to address one of the biggest problems of the border crisis: The burgeoning number of migrant children who remain in U.S. custody. 

  • The bill passed 230-to-195 vote — mostly along party lines — and comes after the Trump administration has demanded an influx of emergency cash to make space for more migrant kids in long-term shelters.
  • The Democrats' bill would impose new conditions on the treatment of migrant children, after a slew of harrowing reports from U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities where unaccompanied children have been held as they await transfer to more humane shelters designed to house children for longer periods of time. 

But the numbers are unlikely to budge: The Department of Health and Human Services — which operates these shelters — is on pace to care for the largest number of unaccompanied minors in the program's history this year.

  • Its Office of Refugee Resettlement says that since October, it received referrals from CBP for 52,000 children who arrived unaccompanied or were separated from their relatives. 

Advocates such as Clara Long, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, argue that the emergency cash is just going to exacerbate the problem — and allow the Trump administration to detain even more kids. 

  • “The Trump administration and Trump's supporters seem to be saying that to stop the abuses we're seeing, we need to create more jails for children to be held,” Long, who was part of a team who spoke with children at the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, told Power Up. “But that solution doesn't hold water. It's cynical to be using this wave of concern over conditions for children at the border to push an agenda, ramp up and further militarize the situation.” 

Showdown coming up: The Senate already approved its own $4.6 billion emergency spending bill that does not contain most of the restrictions Democrats are demanding to help ensure better treatment of the kids in custody. Their bill includes $2.88 billion for HHS to address the large influx of kids — and “also includes $50 million more than the House measure for immigration judges to speed the adjudication of asylum claims, as well as $61 million in back pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents,” per my colleagues Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner

A POLITICAL BIND: The bleak portrait of the treatment of minors — and concern about HHS's ability to handle the flood of migrant kids — puts Democrats in a bind. They are wary of funding the detention of migrant children but a vote against an aid package risks an even worse humanitarian crisis, as HHS has warned that Congress will exhaust funding for housing by the end of the month.

  • At capacity: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters at the White House on Monday that Congress must approve the emergency funding now because the agency has no more capacity to hold children, despite the fact that federal officials said this month they are planning to open three emergency shelters to house approximately 3,000 to 4,000 children, two on military bases and one at a facility in southern Texas,” my colleague Abigail Hauslohner reported.

House leadership highlighted positive changes to the bill to mitigate the political fallout: The bill that ultimately passed requires “CBP to establish new health and safety standards for migrants in its custody, as well as protocols for dealing with migrant surges, within 30 days,” per Mike and Erica

  • “The changes would also limit children’s stays at 'influx shelters' used by the Department of Health and Human Services to no more than 90 days and require the department to report to Congress on their use,” Mike and Erica report. 
  • Democrats also said the bill would “bar HHS shelter contractors who do not provide adequate accommodations, food and personal items, such as toothbrushes, as well as routine medical care, schooling, leisure activities, and other basic services.”  
  • Inside the room: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday “characterized a vote against the House bill as 'a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civilized attitude toward the children,' according to notes taken by an aide present in the room who was not authorized to comment publicly.” 
  • The message: “'The stronger the vote, the bigger the message to the Senate,' [Pelosi] said, adding: 'Think about children being in their parents’ arms. Think about what our values are as a country, and not about each of us.'" She told reporters the Democratic bill was “a very strong first step for us, for the children.” 

TROUBLE AHEAD: But immigration advocates worry that the Trump administration is ill-prepared to deal with the crisis.

  • “The administration chooses to direct the vast majority of funding toward enforcement, and then cries poverty when it comes to diapers and food,” Heidi Altman, the policy director at the liberal National Immigrant Justice Center, told the New York Times's Julie Davis. “It’s a hostage-taking way of engaging in policy.”

Advocates are concerned that the crush of incoming migrant children from border facilities has also slowed HHS's capacity to unite migrant children housed with appropriate U.S.-based sponsors. 

  • From the Human Rights Watch's Long: “I visited the Homestead, [Florida] facility in March and kids have been marooned there for months because U.S. officials are sitting on requests for children to go live with family members or others who have come forward to care for them,” Long said.
  • Part of the issue: Family members are reticent to come forward to ICE to care for a child in the case that they become subject to arrests and deportation themselves, Long says. 

The problem is also compounded by the Trump administration continuing to separate children from adult relatives, advocates say — even as Trump continues to falsely claim that he “was the one that ended” the family separation policy and was the one to “put families back together.” 

  • Fact check: The Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, which systematically separated all families detained while crossing the border, “is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made,” per The Post's Salvador Rizzo. “Trump did not end that particular policy, which is still in effect. He issued an executive order on June 20 to end his own much broader policy." 

Immigration lawyers say many detentions of minors or separations are unnecessary -- and happening in part due to a lack of understanding or tolerance for the kind of family structures common in Latin American countries or the fact that a parent might already be living in the U.S. 

  • Some stats: “Neither the U.S. attorney’s office nor Customs and Border Protection provided statistics on how many migrants have been accused of fraudulent family claims and human smuggling this year. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said in a statement that the agency identified 242 'fraudulent families' in an operation between April and June, but those included children traveling with grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins and stepparents. The government only considers a parent and child to be a legal family unit, and other relatives are not,” The Houston Chronicle's Lomi Kriel and Dug Begley report.
  • “There are so many other options — you don’t have to take them into detention to begin with,” University of San Francisco law professor Bill O. Hing, who was one of the six attorneys to interview children at the Clint facility, told our colleague Abigail. “A number of the children I interviewed came with aunts or uncles. It really isn’t necessary to take into custody many of these folks who are coming with families.”
  • Long said that she believes ICE understands “the way family structures sometimes work in Latin America” but that they continue to separate children from relatives anyway. Many minors she met at the Clint facility “had traveled to the U.S. with a primary care taker who may not have been a parent, but in many cases was their primary emotional attachment. And the U.S. separated them from that person and sent them both into detention alone.” 
  • Kids are worse off due to these separations, Long said: “I can't tell you how upsetting it was to see a 2-year-old on the roster and have them come in to speak with us with an unrelated adolescent who was just taking care of them and could tell us nothing about why that kid was there. They just found that young child who needed care and cared for them. We heard that story again and again.”

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The People

THE HUMAN COST: A searing photograph of the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter underscores the danger that many face when fleeing Central America in hopes of asylum in the U.S. 

According to Julia Le Duc, the journalist who captured the photo published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, "Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria. He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away."

  • “I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” Martínez’s mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, told The AP. “They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”

  • "In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Sunday, overcome by the sweltering heat. Elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande, and a 6-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit."

The Investigations

🚨 MUELLER SET TO TESTIFY IN PUBLIC: After hearing from former special counsel Robert Mueller for just under 10 minutes in a nearly two-year span, we're about to hear a lot more. And this time, he'll be answering questions. On Tuesday night House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced that “pursuant to a subpoena” Mueller will testify in two back-to-back public hearings on July 17, our colleagues Rachael Bade, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian report.

  • Can it live up to the hype?: “Impeachment proponents hope Mueller’s testimony will increase public support for ousting the president. At the very least, his testimony is certain to provide the headline-grabbing, made-for-cable-television testimony that Democrats have been seeking since the 448-page redacted report was released April 18,” Rachael, Matt and Karoun write. “Still, some Democrats are already trying to temper expectations. Privately, some fear that Mueller’s much anticipated testimony won’t live up to the hype that has been built around him for months.”
  • Remember, Mueller said in May: “The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.” 
  • Why it's happening in public: “Mueller, a former FBI director, had preferred not to testify publicly, hoping his report would speak for itself, the people said, Rachael, Matt and Karoun write. “But those who know him well said that it was virtually impossible that he would ignore or reject a subpoena.”
  • Republicans don't think it will go well: “I think it’ll blow up in their face,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). 

In the Media

POLITICAL REPORTERS' GUIDE TO THE DEBATES: The largest and most diverse field of major candidates in modern history will kick off the first of two nights of debates in Miami. Power Up will be on the lookout for the deepening of fault lines within the Democratic party in policies from health care to trade and student debt. We'll keep you updated on the highlights, twists, and the need to know moments. 

Here's what our colleagues who have been out on the trail say they'll be watching for: 

Michael Scherer: Who can score a breakout moment? 

  • “Can any of the margin of error candidates find a way to get noticed in a positive way? The clock is ticking until September for about 10 of them, who could struggle to get 130K donors and four polls at 2 percent. The expectations are highest for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who has been set up at center stage Wednesday, after a big week going toe-to-toe with former Vice President Joe Biden.”

Jenna Johnson: How many people watch?

  • “I’m curious to see how many Americans will actually watch these two debates, as it’s a major time commitment — four hours over two nights. Many will instead learn about the highlights of each night in clips aired on television or circulated on social media."
  • "My major question: Which moments will transcend the debates and actually reach voters?”

Matt Viser: How does Biden fare?

  • “Much of the race so far has been defined by Joe Biden, and his lasting status near the top of the polls. That puts a lot of focus on him in the debates. Will he display why he’s the most experienced, and a formidable force in the race? Or will he, like in the past two weeks, show signs of trouble in reckoning with a party in flux over recent years not to mention decades?”

Holly Bailey: Will Biden get attacked even when he’s not in the room? Plus, what about the #YangGang?

  • “Will you hear Elizabeth Warren or any of the other candidates debating on Wednesday go after him, even though he’s not on the stage?" 
  • "And don’t forget about Andrew Yang, who has been this under-the-radar phenomenon in the race attracting big crowds and social media attention even though most voters have no idea who he is. He got lucky landing a spot on Thursday’s debate stage with Biden. What will he do with it?”

Chelsea Janes: How will the candidates handle the challenge of staying true to their themes?

  • “Senator Kamala Harris, for example, drew many voters in with her pointed questioning in Senate hearings, and her speeches are best received when she ratchets up her passion and rails into the things she believes are wrong with the administration. Will she be willing to prosecute her colleagues, or cautious about going negative early? Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made her speech at last weekend’s South Carolina Democratic Party convention about the fact that she’s ‘not very polite.’ Will she be willing to take on her colleagues? Will Cory Booker, the candidate of love and unity, abandon those tenets to separate himself when the polls are against him?”

Cleve Wootson: How will the candidates interact with each other?

  • “Most of what we’ve seen of candidates has been in a vacuum, a Bernie Sanders rally, a Cory Booker town hall. They’ve spent that time introducing themselves and their policies, but now they’ll have to work to draw contrasts. This will be especially interesting as many of them have said they won’t engage in a slugfest with other Democrats.”

WAY BACK WEDNESDAY: We are just under 500 days until Election Day 2020, which means . . . it's time for primary debates. And unlike general election polling this far out, they kind of matter. Power Up asked the University of Virginia's Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, to take us on a historical journey through the oops moments, hand raising and hoopla that come with group of politicians crammed together on a stage trying to break out. 

  • The timing keeps getting earlier: “Until the 1988 cycle, there were no debates before the calendar year of the presidential election. However, since 2004, a majority of primary debates has occurred before the New Year,” Kondik wrote of primary debate history in 2015, a piece that he updated today. Tonight and tomorrow's debates are earlier than in the 2016 cycle (the first one was in October), but the party actually held an earlier debate in 2008 cycle by starting out in April.
  • What caused the rise of debates: “It's not a coincidence that the rise of debates coincides with the reform era,” Kondik says of the post-1960s push to move away from party power brokers and open the primary process up to the will of the voters. In total: there have been 196 primary debates since 1948 for both parties, 104 for Democrats and 92 for Republicans.
  • You can bet you won't see Trump on a debate stage anytime soon: Even amid tough primary challenges, “an incumbent president has never appeared in a primary debate,” Kondik said, adding that former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld's challenge of Trump is far from the toughest historically speaking at this point in the race.
  • A lesson on dealing with a frontrunner: Kondik said the feeling among some Republicans in 2016 was that “Trump would fall off and he didn't. They ended up attacking one another as opposed to Trump.” Democrats, he said, would be wise to remember that when it comes to Biden. 
  • Bonus: Our colleague Ashley Parker talked to many of the 2016 candidates and their advisers on what they remember, regret and what advice they would have for Democrats tonight and tomorrow.