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War supplemental stymied in Senate over border holdup

Next steps unclear as immigration policy continues to vex lawmakers

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans blocked the Senate from taking up an emergency war funding package Wednesday, making good on their threat to hold up aid to Ukraine without an overhaul of immigration policies at the U.S. southern border.

The Senate voted 49-51 on a motion to limit debate on proceeding to the vehicle for the Democratic-written bill, falling short of the 60 votes required to move onto the measure. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, joined all Republicans to block the bill, which he has faulted for not setting conditions on military aid to Israel.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., flipped his vote to “no” as a procedural move to allow him to revisit the bill at a later date. 

After the vote, Schumer urged Republicans to come up with a border security plan that can win bipartisan support.

“If Republicans do not get serious very soon about a national security package, Vladimir Putin is going to walk right through Ukraine and right through Europe,” he said. “I hope they come up with something serious instead of the extreme policies they’ve come up with thus far.”

Schumer pleaded for GOP cooperation before the vote, saying Republicans would be allowed to offer any amendment they chose on immigration policy and should not hold up vital aid to Israel and Ukraine.

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a strong backer of Ukraine aid, said U.S. border security was too critical to be shunted aside. And without a bipartisan deal on immigration policy, Republicans were unwilling to take up a bill that would not include the border restrictions they sought.

“Fixing a badly broken asylum and parole system isn’t hijacking the supplemental. It’s strengthening it,” McConnell said. “Today’s vote is what it takes for the Democratic leader to recognize that Senate Republicans mean what we say.”

The $110.5 billion package largely mirrors the $106 billion request made by President Joe Biden in October for military, economic and humanitarian aid to Israel and Ukraine, Taiwan and Indo-Pacific allies and funding to combat fentanyl trafficking and process migrants crossing the U.S. southern border.

Democrats added $4 billion in extra military aid to Ukraine to last into next November, and $1 billion in funding to shore up security at U.S. nonprofits and religious institutions facing renewed threats in light of the Israel-Hamas war, for example, while deleting some migrant assistance Republicans criticized.

Democrats also added counter-fentanyl provisions approved by the Senate Banking Committee and a $7.1 billion, 20-year extension of economic aid to several small Pacific island nations, known as the Compacts of Free Association.

Biden faulted Republicans for being unwilling to reach a bipartisan compromise on border security.

“And now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process,” he said before the vote, whose outcome was never in much doubt.

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Democrats have been unwilling to make the kind of concessions on border policy that the GOP views as non-negotiable. “This is not a traditional negotiation where you come up with a consensus provision,” Cornyn said after a Senate GOP lunch that focused on the border.  “This is a price they have to pay to get the rest of the supplemental.”

With the bill now blocked, he said, “we’ll start having a serious conversation. But it’s becoming more and more apparent that we’re probably not going to be able to pass the supplemental this year.”

Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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