WASHINGTON, D.C. – Soon after being sworn into office for the 116th Congress, the three U.S. Representatives for the South Texas border region voted for legislation that would end the partial government shutdown without funding a border wall.
The bill passed by 239-192, with five Republicans joining every Democrat in supporting the measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the way, calling the border wall an affront to American values. “A wall is an immorality. It is not who we are as a nation. We are not doing a wall,” Pelosi told reporters.
Among those voting for the legislation were Congressmen Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, and Filemon Vela of Brownsville.
Pelosi led the traditional swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. She and other members of Congress recited the oath that every Member of Congress has sworn since 1884:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, the Democratic-run House first approved a stopgap spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would not allocate any new wall funding. It then voted to approve a legislative package made up of six full-year spending bills to reopen other shuttered parts of the federal government.
The key sticking point in the shutdown fight has been President Trump’s push for $5 billion in wall funding, something Democrats strongly oppose.
The House legislation is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Republican leader Mitch McConnell has indicated his willingness to support President Trump’s insistence on more border wall funding. However, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorodo said he wants an end to the government shutdown with or without funding for a border wall.
“In the 116th Congress, we will put an end to this dog and pony show and get the federal government back to work for the people,” Gonzalez said.
“It is crucial that my fellow colleagues recognize the need to: pass a long-term appropriations package that funds effective border security strategies, and rejects funds for a border wall.”
Gonzalez, who is starting his second term in the U.S. House, said the new Congress also needs to pass legislation to “lower prescription drug prices and protect senior citizens; find a consensus on free trade agreements that benefit economies across the U.S.; ensure that farm operators and ranchers are provided sufficient resources to thrive; and eliminate the partisan divide that has dominated the past two years.”
Gonzalez promised that in the new Congress he would continue my fight to bring back deported veterans and improve benefit options for all former military service members.
“It will remain my priority to help local communities and federal agencies secure millions of dollars in federal funding for healthcare centers, law enforcement agencies, schools, universities, and agriculture. That is just a taste of what is to come, but rest assured, I came to work,” Gonzalez added.
Gonzalez represents the 15th District of Texas. The district encompasses the growing suburban counties of Brooks, Duval, Guadalupe, Jim Hogg, Karnes, Live Oak and parts of Hidalgo and Wilson Counties.
Gonzalez said he is a proud member of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Blue Dog Coalition, New Democrat Coalition, and Chairman of the Oil and Gas Caucus.
After taking the oath of office, Congressman Vela said: “As the 116th Congress convenes, the new Democratic Majority is ready to get to work. Ending the Trump shutdown by fully opening the Federal government is the top priority. The hundreds of thousands of federal workers who were forced to go without pay over the holidays deserve better.”
Vela said he is looking forward to working alongside Reps. Cuellar and Gonzalez “as we fight for South Texas.” He listed improving infrastructure, protecting agricultural programs, “and fighting to prevent the President’s ineffective and wasteful border wall” as among his highest priorities.
“I am proud to be one of South Texas’ voices in Washington, and I am ready for that voice to be heard.”
Congressman Cuellar said he and his fellow Democrats are ready to hit the ground running.
“We are prepared to re-open government, enact full-year appropriations, and make sure that the federal government continues to stay open year after year,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 and is currently a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Chief Deputy Whip and a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. He previously served as Texas Secretary of State and represented Laredo in the Texas House of Representatives for 14 years.
“I promise to continue working with my colleagues to enact policies our constituents sent us to Washington to fight for,” Cuellar said. He said this includes “promoting a vision of border security that does not include a wall, as well as building upon the success of NAFTA.” Cuellar said.
The agenda must also include “lowering healthcare and prescription drug costs, improving transportation infrastructure, increasing access to care and benefits for our troops and veterans, helping ranchers and farmers, and providing access to higher education,” Cuellar said. “Texan families need a strong voice in Washington.”
Cuellar added: “My constituents in the 28th District need a strong voice in Washington. Texan families deserve good jobs, affordable education and quality healthcare and I stand ready to get to work right away.”
In a news release, Cuellar’s office said the congressman has a well-deserved reputation for being a strong and independent voice for Texans, often reaching across party lines to craft bipartisan solutions for pressing issues facing both Texas and the country.
The news release said that in the 116th Congress, Congressman Cuellar specifically seeks to pass legislation to:
- Enact and enter into force an updated NAFTA, also known as the USMCA
- Bolster border security without funding a border wall
- Address the root causes of immigration in Central and Latin America
- Increase access to higher education for all Texans, including those in underrepresented communities
- Require more responsible spending in Washington
- Protect the Affordable Care Act and increase access to health insurance and medical care
- Increase access to care and benefits for our troops and veterans
- Provide a solution for DREAMers
- Continue to streamline border operations to increase cross-border trade
- Increase government transparency