The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Whose fault is it really that the humanitarian bill isn’t better?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference Thursday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Headlines blared: Pelosi Lost! House Democrats Knuckle Under! The utter obsession with who’s up and who’s down with little concern for the substance of the issue (humanitarian aid, in this case) or which side wanted what turns literally life-or-death issues, in this case the lives of little children, into a sport and reinforces precisely the same chest-thumping narcissism that the media deplores in President Trump.

A segment of progressives (usually young, inexperienced in real-world negotiations, affluent and personally unaffected by the issue), of course, like nothing better than to beat up on ... slightly less progressive Democratic grown-ups.

That’s precisely what happened on Thursday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to engage in the kind of hostage-taking for which Republicans are infamous. The Senate and the House passed separate variations of a humanitarian aid bill to deal with the appalling consequences of policies Trump put into effect at the border, policies Republicans cheered. The normal legislative process would have meant a conference committee to iron out differences. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flat-out refused. His bill or the kids get nothing. Period.

And what was he refusing to consider? Items such as higher standards for medical care, nutrition and hygiene; a limit of 90 days on the time a child can spend in an influx facility; holding contractors responsible for their facilities; reimbursing faith-based and nonprofit organizations and local governments that care for the children (why do Republicans hate churches?); a pilot program to create migrant processing that is “culturally, linguistically and religiously appropriate”; and a requirement to report the death of any child within 24 hours and to allow members of Congress to visit facilities unannounced.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Which of these did McConnell object to? Reimbursing faith-based groups? Giving children clean clothes and adult supervision? Could the House save the pilot program for another time and McConnell agree to minimal conditions for the children’s care? We don’t know because Republicans were uninterested in anything that would improve the lives of these children or constrict the administration, which again and again has shown itself to be unwilling or unable to treat families with decency and respect.

Vice President Pence did agree “to implement administratively two changes sought by Pelosi: the 90-day limit on keeping children in influx facilities, and an agreement to notify Congress within 24 hours after the death of a child in custody,” The Post reported. Toothbrushes and adult supervision? Repaying churches for caring for infants? Forget it. (And getting the administration’s agreement to implement something it doesn’t want to do is practically worthless, as Pence knows.)

The Post reported:

Republicans and moderate Democrats pointed out that without action, the agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied children who have flooded the border will run out of money within days, and conditions for minors in U.S. custody would worsen. Other agencies are also overburdened and short of funds, as huge numbers of Central Americans trying to reach U.S. soil have overwhelmed the system. Some migrants have died making the trip, while some children are being held in what observers describe as squalid conditions.

Pelosi and House moderates were then faced with a choice: Give no funds for the care of children (i.e. increase the suffering inflicted by the administration) or pass the current bill, hold Republicans accountable and try for improvements later. It was a no-brainer . . . unless you looked at left-wing Twitter or far-left activists who accused Pelosi of selling out, who decried Pelosi for lacking spine. Really? She’s the villain in this?

This is an all-too-familiar pattern on the left that results in internal divisions among Democrats and, worse, that allows Republicans to escape blame for their cruel policies and legislative sloth. “This current episode needs to come to an end,” McConnell told The Post. "We’ve been playing with it for two months and this is the best we can do at the moment.” Not a few hours more to figure out what the objections were? Not a look at the minimal nutrition and health standards Democrats asked for? Nope. Too busy. Time to leave for the Fourth of July holiday.

The far left complains at times like this that their leadership just doesn’t fight like the other side. Darn right, and thank God. If Pelosi wanted to be a mini-McConnell, she’d let the kids suffer, let the money run out and try to blame Republicans. However, that cruelty is utterly alien to her and her colleagues’ moral, religious and political principles.

The sorry episode — stemming from failed Trump policies that have aggravated the asylum situation, inflicted pain and trauma on little children and denied them basic human rights — should stop us all in our tracks. This is not about who won and who lost. It’s not about Pelosi’s lack of courage. It’s about one side that values human life and simple decency and one side that does not. That’s worth pondering over the July 4 break.

Read more:

Alyssa Rosenberg: Highlights magazine is right about what we owe migrant children — and U.S. children, too

The Post’s View: America should be horrified by this

Jennifer Rubin: Trump has no excuse for mistreatment of children

Alexandra Petri: Appropriate ways of describing what is happening at the border

Eugene Robinson: This is the reality of Trump’s America