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Supplemental stuck for now in Senate starting blocks

Talks hold the key to a massive money bill to assist Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.,  shown speaking  to reporters in the Senate subway Jan. 25, said Republicans have yet to decide whether they want to both continue funding Ukraine and address border security.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., shown speaking to reporters in the Senate subway Jan. 25, said Republicans have yet to decide whether they want to both continue funding Ukraine and address border security. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate negotiations over immigration policy remained mired in partisan muck on Tuesday, as the fate of more than $100 billion in funds to help Ukraine and other American partners hung in the balance.

After months of Senate talks to hammer out a bipartisan deal aimed at stemming the influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, no legislation has yet emerged to do that, although senators say they are nearing completion of the package.

Those talks hold the key to a massive money bill to assist Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and more because Republicans have insisted that border provisions be attached to the security supplemental.

Now, many Republicans are not so sure. They are saying no border bill is better than an imperfect one, even if it leaves America’s overseas friends in the lurch. Many of those GOP lawmakers appear to be following the lead of former President Donald Trump.

“They are using this horrific Senate Bill as a way of being able to put the BORDER DISASTER onto the shoulders of the Republicans,” Trump said on his social media network on Monday. “The Democrats BROKE THE BORDER, they should fix it.”

The talks over border security have become so fraught that a senior Senate Republican from a southern border state said Tuesday evening that it may be time to drop the effort to attach immigration provisions to the supplemental.

“It’d be nice to change the status quo on the border, but if there’s not the political support to do that, then I think we should proceed with the rest of the supplemental,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters.

“I don’t think we have any real choice” but to do so, he added.

‘Finish line’

The political situation surrounding the border talks has only gotten more tense. Republicans, led by Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, are increasingly trashing the deal before it has even been released.

At the same time, House Republicans are preparing to try to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorkas for allegedly not enforcing border laws and misleading Congress about the issue.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., has filed a supplemental spending measure that is devoid of any controversial border policies. Democrats could make that bill the basis of a discharge petition to force a House vote on the security spending as a stand-alone question.

Despite this tempestuous political backdrop, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday that senators from both parties remain committed to finishing work on the immigration package.

“We are approaching the finish line” on the border talks, Schumer said.

But Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said Republicans have yet to decide whether they want to both continue funding Ukraine and address border security.

“Speaker Johnson is trying to scuttle this deal in the Senate so he doesn’t have to deal with it in the House,” said Murphy, who is his party’s lead negotiator in the border talks alongside GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

“He has shown no interest in sitting down and actually negotiating something with Democrats,” Murphy said of the speaker, adding that Johnson would likely “love” for the Senate to be unable to produce a product.

‘Reports and rumors’

Johnson was supposed to give his maiden floor speech on Tuesday, with a planned focus on the border debate, but postponed it until Wednesday at noon.

Yet, at a news conference Tuesday, Johnson was asked about Trump’s efforts to kill the border bill in order to keep the problem alive for the 2024 campaign. Johnson replied that the charge is “absurd.”

Still, Johnson has struck a hard-line public posture on the measure, even as he acknowledges he has not seen the final text.

“All we know is reports and rumors,” he conceded.

For instance, Johnson has assailed the deal for supposedly allowing as many as 5,000 migrants to enter the country each day.

“The goal should be zero illegal crossings per day, not 5,000,” Johnson said.

Johnson made the statement Tuesday even though Lankford had said in a Sunday broadcast interview: “It would be absolutely absurd for me to agree to 5,000 people a day. This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There’s no amnesty.”

Johnson sought to depict the flood of migrants into America as a security threat, describing waves of “single, military-age men descending on America’s cities.”

Republicans have also accused Biden of not enforcing current laws or exercising executive authority he now has to bolster the border. Many GOP lawmakers are arguing that this track record raises questions about whether any new law would be effective in the current administration.

Some of those making those arguments have long supported enacting new statutes, such as HR 2, to deal with the problem.

“Why would the president enforce this new law when he’s not enforcing the current law?” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

‘Inflection point’

Schumer, for his part, reiterated his commitment to seeing the bipartisan border talks through to conclusion. If Schumer is successful and the Senate passes a compromise supplemental with border policy changes, House Republicans would be forced to decide whether to reject a bill that includes both limited if imperfect measures on the border and support for embattled U.S. partner nations.

Congress’ looming decision on whether to continue to support Ukraine and other nations that are facing down threats from U.S. foes represents “an inflection point in history,” Schumer said.

Niels Lesniewski, David Lerman and Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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