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Hispanic Caucus warns Biden, Democrats on potential border deal

Statement suggests party leaders don't have much room to negotiate as war funds hang in balance

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., speaks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference at House Democrats' 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md., on March 2.
Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., speaks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference at House Democrats' 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md., on March 2. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders criticized President Joe Biden on Monday for considering tighter restrictions at the southern border to win GOP support for Ukraine aid.

With only a week to go before Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year, the administration is stepping up its involvement in bipartisan talks aimed at reaching a border security compromise that could unlock emergency aid to Ukraine, Israel and more.  

Biden said last week he was “willing to make significant compromises on the border.” Those could include new restrictions on who can seek asylum, along with an expedited deportation process, according to reports.

But bending to GOP demands could cost Biden support from his party’s left flank, as Democrats warned they would oppose immigration changes that would effectively “shut down” the border.

In a warning Monday, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán and Sen. Alex Padilla, both California Democrats, issued a statement faulting Biden for considering “Trump-era immigration policies that Democrats fought so hard against” as he tries to reach a bipartisan deal on emergency aid.

Recalling a 2020 campaign pledge by Biden to restore the nation’s “moral standing” and its “historic role as a haven for refugees and asylum seekers,” the lawmakers wrote: “It is unconscionable that the president would consider going back on his word to enact what amounts to a ban on asylum.”

And Democratic concerns about an administration overreach extended beyond the Hispanic Caucus. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., issued a separate statement Monday that stopped short of criticizing Biden, while urging a moderate course on the border.

“[A]s recent history shows, drastic bans at the border have not served to reduce the number of people seeking refuge from violence in their countries,” Booker said. “I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will adopt commonsense solutions like those proposed in the supplemental and changes to our outdated immigration laws that provide meaningful access to legal pathways to immigration.”

White House budget director Shalanda Young acknowledged the negotiations, saying Sunday on CBS that “conversations are happening that need to happen.” But she warned against a House GOP push for a sweeping border control measure that passed the House in May on a party-line vote.

That bill would require the Biden administration to resume construction of a border wall, boost personnel and technology at the border, impose sweeping asylum restrictions on migrants journeying to the southwest border and reinstate migrant family detention, among other things.

“You can’t have everything your way in a negotiation,” Young said Sunday. “Democrats and Republicans have to vote for this bill. So I agree it’s time to cut a deal that both sides can agree to.”

‘Not there yet’

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats conferred with Republicans again Monday in an effort to find a compromise.

“We’re not there yet, but as a sign of good faith, Democrats will trying,” he said on the floor. “We’re still working. And while we are not near an agreement yet, we are going to keep pushing as the week progresses.”

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, a key GOP negotiator, ruled out reaching a deal by Friday, when Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year.  He and others have suggested the Christmas recess might have to be curtailed to pass a bill this month.

“There’s no way to get it done this week,” Lankford told NBC Monday in a video posted on X, formerly Twitter. “The question is are we staying into next week or do this actually move into early January to be able to resolve.”

Republicans last week blocked the Senate from taking up a $110.5 billion emergency spending package, saying its border security provisions were inadequate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be on Capitol Hill and at the White House on Tuesday seeking to shore up support for the measure, which includes more than $65 billion in military and economic aid for his country as it seeks to hold off Russia’s advance. Administration officials say current U.S. aid will be exhausted by year’s end.

Even if Senate leaders can somehow achieve an immigration deal this week that doesn’t get pulled apart from the left and right, it still has to get through the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is seeking to close out the year’s legislative session this week.

After Zelenskyy meets with senators Tuesday morning, he’ll head across the Capitol for an audience with Johnson, who’s under pressure from his right flank not to put a Ukraine package on the floor.

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