Republicans Rage Against Border Deal

Republicans Rage Against Border Deal

Sen. James Lankford has pushed back on Republican criticism of his deal.
Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Monday, February 5, 2024

Happy Monday and welcome to what promises to be a critical week for any potential compromise on the border and aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Here’s what’s happening.

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

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 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.

What’s in the Senate’s $118 Billion National Security Deal

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.

Powell Warns of ‘Unsustainable’ Fiscal Path, Talks Rate Cuts

In an interview that aired Sunday evening, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that “almost all” of the officials involved in setting the central bank’s benchmark interest rate believe that it will be appropriate to cut rates this year.

Powell’s comments confirm the outlook he provided last week following the January meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, though some Fed watchers thought they heard a slightly more conservative tone. Some Wall Street analysts are betting that the Fed will cut rates as many as six times in 2024, but Powell indicated that Fed officials’ estimate of three cuts this year still seems likely.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a research note that as a result of the latest interview, they have increased the odds that the Fed will wait until June to start cutting rates, rather than doing so in May, although the earlier date still seems most likely. If Fed officials do wait until early summer, that could create a “later but steeper” path for rate cuts for the rest of the year, the Goldman analysts said.

Assessing the debt: In the same interview, Powell said that he has long-term concerns about the national debt. “The U.S. federal government’s on an unsustainable fiscal path,” he said when asked by CBS’s Scott Pelley about how he assesses the national debt. “And that just means that the debt is growing faster than the economy. So, it is unsustainable. I don’t think that’s at all controversial.”

Powell noted that the pandemic required the federal government to spend aggressively to avoid what appeared to be “severe downside risks,” but that exceptional period is over. “It's probably time, or past time, to get back to an adult conversation among elected officials about getting the federal government back on a sustainable fiscal path,” he said.

Powell also noted that the national debt is “difficult from a political standpoint” and is largely the responsibility of Congress. “It's not our business, really,” he said. “But I do think it's pretty widely understood that it's time for us to get back to putting a priority on fiscal sustainability. And sooner's better than later.”

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