Republicans Rage Against Border Deal, Threatening Its Fate in the Senate

Republicans Rage Against Border Deal, Threatening Its Fate in the Senate

Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto

It’s finally here … but maybe not for long.

After months of negotiations, anticipation and speculation — and following decades of inaction on immigration — senators on Sunday released the text of a $118.3 billion national security spending package that pairs bipartisan border reforms with aid to Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

It appears likely to die quickly because of widespread and growing Republican opposition.

While President Joe Biden and Senate leaders from both parties support the plan — and the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents, which backed former President Donald Trump in 2020, has endorsed it — House Republican leaders again dismissed the proposal as dead on arrival. Former president Donald Trump, who is looking to make the border a central issue in his 2024 campaign to return to the White House, wasted no time in blasting the bill as “a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party.”

Those positions were already known, though, so what may be more noteworthy for the moment is the backlash coming from Senate Republicans. Even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer prepares the bill for a procedural vote on Wednesday, which he calls “the most important that the Senate has taken in a very long time,” Republicans in the chamber have begun expressing concerns about the plan or lining up against it, with at least 17 already saying they will vote against it (as have a couple of Democrats).

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, called for an amendment process to allow changes to the bill. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called the plan “an unmitigated disaster” and went so far as to suggest that it indicates that Senate Republicans need new leadership, a shot at Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Schumer on Sunday said he had never worked more closely with McConnell on any other legislation, which only gave more ammunition to conservative critics of the Republican leader.)

The rising GOP opposition has frustrated Sen. James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who negotiated the border provisions and has been pushing back against GOP criticisms of the deal. “Are we as Republicans going to have press conferences and complain the border is bad and then intentionally leave it open?” he asked on Fox News. “Are we going to just complain about things or are we going to actually address and change as many things as we can?”

Even if the bill can pass the Senate, House Republican leaders have said they won’t touch it. Speaker Mike Johnson on Sunday said the legislation “is even worse than expected” and warned: “If this bill reaches the House, it will be dead on arrival.” He followed up on Monday in a joint statement with other House Republican leaders. “House Republicans oppose the Senate immigration bill because it fails in every policy area needed to secure our border and would actually incentivize more illegal immigration,” the statement said, in part. It called on the Senate to instead take up the House-passed immigration bill, H.R. 2, adding, “Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time. It is DEAD on arrival in the House. We encourage the U.S. Senate to reject it.”

Johnson had preempted the release of the Senate bill by announcing that the House would be taking up its own $17.6 billion package of aid to Israel. The House in November had approved a bill to send $14 billion in aid to Israel, but that plan called for offsetting cuts to the IRS, which meant it went nowhere in the Senate. The new plan has already drawn criticism from the House Freedom Caucus, which complained about the lack of offsetting spending cuts.

What’s in the bill: A 19-page summary of the 370-page bill is available here. But the key elements include:

* $60 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine;

* $14 billion for Israel;

* $10 billion for humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and other conflict zones;

* $20 billion for U.S. border security measures;

* $4.8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific;

* $2.4 billion for U.S. Central Command operations and to address the recent spending on the conflict in the Red Sea.

* $2.33 billion to support refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere.

The border deal would give the federal government the authority to shut the border if illegal daily crossings average more than 5,000 a week or tops 8,500 on any given day. Homeland Security would also be able to close the border if crossings top 4,000 a day for a week. The deal would also scale back the number of migrants eligible for asylum and change how those asylum claims are processed, shifting the decisions from immigration judges to the Department of Homeland Security. You can read much more about the details of the border deal here or here.

What’s next: It remains unclear for the moment whether a majority of Senate Republicans will back the deal or whether it can get the required 60 votes to pass. But both Johnson and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana have already made it abundantly clear that the bill won’t get a vote in their chamber. They reportedly plan to bring up their Israel aid bill instead this week.

The bottom line: The release of the bill text has further inflamed internal GOP tensions, which are clouding the outlook for the border and two major wars.