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Senate will be in next week as border talks pick up steam

Schedule change comes after several days of intense negotiations

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., right, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., conduct a news conference after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol Tuesday.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., right, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., conduct a news conference after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate planned to delay its holiday recess and stay in session next week as lawmakers signaled they could be close to a bipartisan border security deal that would clear a path for aid to Ukraine and Israel.

The change in schedule came after several days of intense negotiations among senators of both parties and White House staff who were struggling to reach a deal on immigration policies designed to curb the flow of migrants at the southern border. Republicans have insisted on tougher border security as their price for additional Ukraine aid, part of a broader $110.5 billion supplemental funding package.

“We can get this done before we leave,” said Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, the lead negotiator for Senate Democrats, after a Thursday morning negotiating session. “I just think if . . . the border is an emergency, if Ukraine is an emergency, then let’s act like it.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., earlier moved to keep senators in town on Friday by teeing up some confirmation votes, and more votes are planned for Monday and the early part of next week.

“Members need to be here next week. We have to get this done,” Schumer said. “We hope to come to an agreement. But no matter what, members should be aware that we will vote on a supplemental proposal next week.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said his side had been told that votes on generals that Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has held up would be on the agenda next week while negotiators work on the supplemental.

Thune said he believed negotiators were making progress, and that White House engagement was a good sign. But he said there was still much work to be done to seal a deal and bring a bill to the floor that has bipartisan support.

“It takes a lot to reduce it to text, and right now, they are still talking concepts,” Thune said. “There are a number of issues they haven’t broached yet that they are going to have to have conversations about before there can be . . . a deal that emerges.”

Thune said he doesn’t “realistically” see how the bill can get passed before Christmas as there will likely be objections from some Republican senators to slow down the package.

‘Picking up the pen’

While coming back next week is no guarantee a deal will be reached, there was at least enough optimism to warrant spending more time in Washington when most senators would rather be home.

“They’re really talking about picking up the pen and actually writing the words down, so it’s that close,” added Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Another issue that will keep senators from flying home is the need to take up a three-month extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs which would otherwise lapse on Jan. 1.

Senate Commerce ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went to the floor to seek unanimous consent to bring up the House-passed FAA bill on Thursday. But Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., objected to its swift passage, arguing that senators should remain in Washington to work on the supplemental rather than leave Ukraine in the lurch.

“I think it’s good that . . . a deal that looked like it was not making progress as recently as several days ago now looks like we are making some progress. It’s essential that we don’t fail,” Bennet said in an interview.

Both sides wary

The Biden administration has put major changes to border policies on the table in an effort to win GOP support.

The proposal, which senators said has not been put to paper, called for giving the administration expanded authority to expel migrants, similar to the so-called Title 42 public health order issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. That policy allowed for deportation without the right to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The White House plan also is said to include significant detention and deportation measures.

Some Republicans have embraced that plan at least as a significant starting point toward a deal, while others remain wary.

“I have no idea what the deal is,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “There’s no text. Forget me voting on an immigration concept. I want to see details.”

Even if the Senate can agree to a package combining border security with military aid to Ukraine and Israel, the measure is unlikely to become law this month. The House recessed for the year Thursday and Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., appeared unlikely to call the chamber back into session before January.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration still had an end-of-the-year goal for getting the agreement done, and she said the administration was encouraged by the direction of the Senate talks.

“It’s going in the right way, we understand that we’re going to … have to find a bipartisan compromise to get this done,” she said. “And we’re talking about the policy side of it and the funding side of it as we talk about the border.”

Republicans have said they’re determined to enact policy changes to stem the flow of migrants that has produced more than 10,000 border crossings per day.

“The Senate cannot claim to address major national security challenges without a solution to the one we’re facing on the southern border,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But some Democrats, including progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have expressed alarm about policies that they say would effectively “shut down” the southern border and turn a deaf ear to those with legitimate claims of asylum.

Niels Lesniewski, Aidan Quigley, Valerie Yurk and Caroline Coudriet contributed to this report.

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