Senate deal on border security, Ukraine aid nearing collapse

Jan 26, 2024, 6:00 PM

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the Democrats' chief negotiator on the border security talks, speaks wi...

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the Democrats' chief negotiator on the border security talks, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. Any bipartisan border deal could be doomed because of resistance from former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan Senate deal to pair border enforcement measures and Ukraine aid faced potential collapse Thursday as Senate Republicans grew increasingly wary of an election-year compromise that Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, says is “meaningless.”

Senate negotiators have been striving for weeks to finish a carefully negotiated compromise on border and immigration policy that is meant to tamp down the number of migrants who come to the U.S. border with Mexico. But now that negotiations have dragged for weeks, election-year politics and demands from Trump are weighing it down.

At stake is a plan that both President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have worked on for months to broker in hopes of cajoling Congress to approve wartime aid for Ukraine. The U.S. has run out of money to supply Ukraine, potentially leaving the country stranded without robust supplies of ammunition and missiles to fend off Russia’s invasion.

Trump on Thursday ramped up his criticism of the potential compromise, writing in two lengthy posts on his social media platform that it would be “meaningless” in terms of border security and “another Gift to the Radical Left Democrats” as Biden runs for reelection.

The former president said the Senate is better off not making a deal, even if it means the country will “close up” for a while. He did not propose alternate policy options.

In a closed-door Republican meeting on Wednesday, McConnell acknowledged the reality of Trump’s opposition, that he is the party’s likely presidential nominee and discussed other options, including potentially separating Ukraine and the border, according to two people familiar who spoke anonymously to discuss the private meeting. Punchbowl News first reported the remarks.

McConnell’s comments raised fresh doubts in the Senate about his level of commitment to the border deal, though advocates for moving forward countered that the leader’s remarks were being misinterpreted.

“We’re still working on it,” McConnell told reporters on Thursday morning.

He also reassured the conference at a Republican luncheon Thursday that he still personally supports pairing the border and Ukraine, said Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican.

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, the head GOP negotiator, said the group is still working on the package. He said McConnell was advocating for the proposal while simply acknowledging the political reality that the presidential primary season is fully underway.

“I think that’s the shift that has occurred, that he’s just acknowledging,” Lankford said. “That’s just a reality.”

Lankford has been working with a small bipartisan group and White House officials to try and close out the border deal. But release of the legislation has been held up by haggling over the price of the new policies and continued disagreements over limiting the president’s ability to allow people into the country under special circumstances, such as fleeing war and unrest.

“We’re really focused on making sure we get the bill out and that we get it through the Senate,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent who has been central to the talks.

White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that the Biden administration has been working with the negotiators “in good faith,” feels that progress has been made, and hopes it will continue.

“We’re at a critical moment, and we’ve got to drive hard to get this done,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Senate Republican. “If we can’t get there, then we’ll go to plan B.”

But congressional leaders have not identified any other way to push wartime funding for Ukraine through the darkening political prospects of the cause. Scores of House Republicans are unwilling to send more money to the fight, even as longtime party stalwarts, like McConnell, have tried to convince them that preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance in Europe is directly in America’s interest.

“We know that if Putin prevails in Ukraine, the consequences for Western democracy and for the American people will be severe, and haunt us for years,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Democrats are also resolute on reaching an agreement on securing the southern border.”

Trump has loomed large over the talks, first skewering American support for Ukraine and now potentially upending a political compromise on the border that would hand his likely opponent, Biden, new policies meant to contain the historic numbers of migrants making their way to the country. With Republicans continuously raise the issue on the campaign trail, the border will likely remain central to elections this year.

Although many in Congress are anxiously awaiting the bill text, Trump has already said on social media that there should be no bipartisan border deal “unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people.”

The lead Democratic negotiator, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, said he still has hope that Republicans will decide to accept the compromise — even though Democrats didn’t want to tie Ukraine aid and border security together in the first place.

“A lot of Republicans have become used to this being just merely a political issue, not an actual policy problem,” Murphy said. “And that’s hard for them to get over. But there is a big group of Senate Republicans who do want to solve the problem.”

Seeking to hold off objections from Trump, Republican senators have argued that the policies under discussion would not have an immediate effect on problems at the border and would even give Trump greater border enforcement authority if he is reelected.

“The issue will still be a live issue and I’d think it’d be one of the defining issues in the campaign,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. “So we need to do our job here.”

But this week, a vocal contingent of Republicans have raised objections, including with heated exchanges during a closed-door Republican lunch on Tuesday, according to several senators in the meeting. They have argued that presidents already have enough authority to implement hardline border measures and Trump should have his say.

“If we expect him to be able to secure the border, he ought to be able to see this bill, and he ought to be able to be engaged and say, is this going to help me secure the border or not,” said Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, at a Wednesday news conference. “What we know is, he doesn’t need it.”

Sen. J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican who is a Trump ally, said he spoke with the former president about the deal last week and he expressed worry that it would be “too weak.”

“When it fails, as it will, it allows the president to blame quote, unquote ‘MAGA Republicans’ for the failure of a border security package when in reality what failed was very weak border security package that didn’t actually do anything,” Vance said.

But some Republicans worried walking away from an opportunity to enact border policy could backfire.

“If we were given an opportunity, and we decided for political purposes, not to do it, yeah, I think we could be in serious trouble,” said Rounds. “A lot of our candidates could be in serious trouble back home.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

United States News

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference...

Associated Press

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. Now he wants Super Tuesday revenge on his foes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. On Super Tuesday, he wants political revenge. The Republican, who just six months ago was on the brink of removal from office, is charging into Texas’ primaries on a dramatic campaign to oust dozens in his own party. They include rank-and-file legislators, state judges […]

1 hour ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. Short...

Associated Press

Ukrainian troops are rationing ammo. But House Republicans plan to take weeks to consider aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian drones fly without ammunition. Russian artillery unleash deadly volleys from safe positions beyond the range of Kyiv’s troops. Shortages of ammo and supplies are resulting in lost ground to Moscow, U.S. congressional leaders warn, yet the Republican-controlled House has shown little hurry to resupply Ukraine with military aid. Across Washington, officials […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Registered Republican voters stand in line March 6, 2012, for the caucus event in Rathdrum, ...

Associated Press

Republicans in Idaho, Missouri and Michigan will meet to weigh in on the presidential race

More delegates are up for grabs Saturday as former President Donald Trump looks to get closer to clinching the Republican nomination and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks her first win. Trump, who is especially strong in caucuses, is expected to add to his delegate lead in Republican caucuses in Idaho and Missouri, as well […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Music fans relax during a break in the entertainment at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, A...

Associated Press

Peace, music and memories: As the 1960s fade, historians scramble to capture Woodstock’s voices

BETHEL, N.Y. (AP) — Woodstock didn’t even happen in Woodstock. The fabled music festival, seen as one of the seminal cultural events of the 1960s, took place 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) away in Bethel, New York, an even smaller village than Woodstock. It’s a fitting misnomer for an event that has become as much legend […]

2 hours ago

***HOLD FOR JEFF MCMURRAY STORY**** Pedestrians cross the street at the intersection of Washington ...

Associated Press

A New Jersey city that limited street parking hasn’t had a traffic death in 7 years

Street parking was already scarce in Hoboken, New Jersey, when the death of an elderly pedestrian spurred city leaders to remove even more spaces in a bid to end traffic fatalities. For seven years now, the city of nearly 60,000 people has reported resounding success: Not a single automobile occupant, pedestrian or bicyclist has died […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Senate deal on border security, Ukraine aid nearing collapse