Senate negotiators unveil long-sought border deal

Senate negotiators on Sunday unveiled the long-sought bipartisan deal to secure the U.S.-Mexico border that is also intended to unlock aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia. 

The 370-page bill came together after months of negotiations led by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). 

The deal includes provisions to raise standards for asylum screening and to process claims faster, ends the practice known as “catch and release,” and provides a new authority to close the border to most migrants when crossings reach a set threshold. It also seeks to make it easier for migrants to get work authorization and eliminate the immigration court backlog.

The full supplemental — which includes funds for the border, Israel and Ukraine aid, and other foreign policy priorities — totals $118 billion, with about $20 billion going to the border component.

Lankford called it “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close our open border and give future administrations the effective tools they need to stop the border chaos and protect our nation.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would bring it to the floor this week.

In a statement Sunday, he lauded the bill as “a monumental step towards strengthening America’s national security abroad and along our borders.”

“This is one of the most necessary and important pieces of legislation Congress has put forward in years to ensure America’s future prosperity and security,” he added.

President Biden in a statement Sunday urged Congress to pass the bill.

“Now we’ve reached an agreement on a bipartisan national security deal that includes the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades. I strongly support it,” he said.

He also took a shot at Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) resistance to the bill.

“Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border?” he said in his statement.

Republicans also demanded policy changes at the border as a condition of sending more aid to Ukraine, an idea Johnson backed. In December alone, there were more than 300,000 migrant crossings, blowing past the 240,000 crossings recorded in each of the past four months. 

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate wasted no time coming out against the deal on Sunday.

“No self-respecting senator should agree to vote on this 370-page bill this week,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Any 41 senators can prevent the bill from proceeding. If you agree that senators should have this bill for at least a few weeks (and certainly more than a few days) before voting on it, say so!”

And members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and their allies called it “a complete sell-out, “awful” and “totally unacceptable.”

“Let me be clear: The Senate Border Bill will NOT receive a vote in the House,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) wrote on X.

Sinema, on a call with reporters, laughed when a reporter mentioned that some conservative House Republicans are already calling the measure the “Senate Amnesty Bill,” and said she looked forward to educating them about the bill.

“I know there’s a lot of noise from the extremes on both sides about why this proposal fails their purity tests, and, look, there are extremists on both edges of the political spectrum who benefit from inaction on this issue. But that is not an option for Arizona,” Sinema said earlier in the call. “This is a security crisis at our border. We have to solve it now.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday urged the upper chamber to act in a statement that also took a shot at Biden.

“America’s sovereignty is being tested here at home, and our credibility is being tested by emboldened adversaries around the world. The challenges we face will not resolve themselves, nor will our adversaries wait for America to muster the resolve to meet them. The Senate must carefully consider the opportunity in front of us and prepare to act,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest question now is whether the bipartisan Senate bill would even be taken up in the GOP-controlled House.

House Republicans for months have been vocal in support of H.R. 2, their partisan bill that did not get a single Democratic vote in May, and have maintained that it is the starting position for their conference. 

Johnson himself has said the bill is as good as “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber, and recently argued that the border can’t be fully secured unless a Republican president is elected in November. 

Opponents of Ukraine aid have also been calling on Johnson to not put the bill on the floor.

Adding to the headwinds for the bill is former President Trump, who recently called on lawmakers to sidestep the emerging border deal and does not want to give Biden a potential legislative and political victory with the agreement.

“I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people, many from parts unknown, into our once great, but soon to be great again, Country!” Trump said on TruthSocial. “Also, I have no doubt that our wonderful Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, will only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER. Remember, without Strong Borders and Honest Elections, we don’t have a Country!!!”

Lankford has argued that the bipartisan bill would hand Trump tools to manage the border that he did not have at his disposal during his presidency, but that does not seem to have assuaged him. The Oklahoma Republican told reporters last week that he has not talked to the former president in months.

Lankford has repeatedly expressed exasperation at some Republicans in recent weeks, indicating he is frustrated at them for repeatedly saying that action is needed at the border but refusing to jump on board with his push out of political expediency for Trump. 

“It is interesting ― Republicans four months ago would not give funding for Ukraine, for Israel and for our southern border because we demanded changes in policy. So we actually locked arms together and said, ‘We’re not going to give you money for this. We want a change in law,’” Lankford said during a recent Sunday show appearance. “And now it’s interesting, a few months later, when we’re finally getting to the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. I actually don’t want a change in law because it’s a presidential election year.’”

The deal released Sunday also includes a provision that would provide a pathway to permanent legal status for Afghan nationals who assisted U.S. troops, the FEND Off Fentanyl Act to require the president to sanction transnational criminal organizations engaged in fentanyl trafficking, and new hiring authority for the Department of Homeland Security.

Updated at 7:36 p.m.

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