G.O.P. Backlash to Border Deal Reflects Vanishing Ground for a Compromise

G.O.P. Backlash to Border Deal Reflects Vanishing Ground for a Compromise

Republicans in Congress, who for months have demanded that any aid to Ukraine be accompanied by a crackdown on migration to the United States, got what they demanded when a bipartisan group of senators reached a $118.3 billion deal published that provided for both.

On Monday, many of them still rejected it.

It was the latest sign that the political basis for an immigration deal – particularly in an election year in which immigration is expected to be a central issue of the presidential campaign – has disappeared.

With former President Donald J. Trump eager to attack President Biden’s record on the border and right-wing Republicans in Congress rallying behind him, compromise was always a long shot. The long-awaited release of the text of the 370-page bill Sunday night only served to inflame Republicans’ divisions on an issue that once united them.

Even as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader and Ukraine funding advocate, took the floor to call for action on the bill, many of his Republican colleagues were astute. Speaker Mike Johnson condemned the measure as “even worse than we expected” and reiterated in a joint statement with his leadership team what had become his mantra about the deal – that it would be “dead from the word go” in the House.

Even more moderate Republican voices like Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who sponsored the negotiations, said he had “serious concerns” after the review. (Mr. Cornyn, who is often mentioned as a potential successor to Mr. McConnell as Republican leader, made the statement notably to the far-right news outlet Breitbart.)

On Monday evening, Mr. McConnell privately acknowledged that the measure had lost support among Republicans and recommended that they block it unless Democrats agreed to further debate and allowed them to propose changes.

It pointed to a bleak outlook for the complicated compromise bill, which followed a longstanding pattern on Capitol Hill where key immigration deals often came close to being enacted only to fall apart near the finish line after Republicans condemned them as too weak.

The first test for the measure will come Wednesday, when a first procedural vote is scheduled. It needs 60 votes to pass, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to support it. Even if the bill could clear that hurdle and pass the Senate, there appears to be no path forward in the House.

“The $64,000 question now is whether senators can drown out the outside noise, drown out people like Donald Trump who want chaos and do the right thing for America,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said in a speech on the Senate floor floor on Monday afternoon. “I call on senators of good will on both sides of the aisle to do the right thing and end the chaos.”

Mr. Schumer reminded his colleagues that “we live in a time of divided government, and that means both sides have to compromise if we want to pass a bill.”

But Republicans’ withdrawal from the deal also threatened to weaken support on the left, where some Democrats are reluctant to support a bill that pro-immigration groups have denounced as a betrayal of American values ​​and that some conservative groups such as the National Border Patrol Council have supported .

For Democrats who have pushed for any immigration measure to include legal status for large groups of undocumented people, including the so-called Dreamers who were brought to the United States as children, this is a vote for a bill that has none of that contains provisions and does not provide a way forward. The law is a bitter pill to swallow anyway.

There is even less enthusiasm among Republicans about finding a middle ground at the start of an election year in which Mr. Trump is already winning nomination contests. He has once again made the border a central plank of his campaign, encouraging Republicans to oppose anything but the tough policies he introduced as president. And his “America First” approach to foreign policy has also helped weaken the Republican Party’s support for providing aid to Ukraine in the war against Russian aggression.

Senator Steve Daines, Republican of Montana and chairman of the Senate Republican campaign group, reinforced Mr. Trump’s arguments on Monday by saying bluntly that he would vote “no” on the bill.

“I cannot support a bill that fails to secure the border, provides taxpayer-funded lawyers for illegal immigrants, and donates billions to radical open border groups,” he said on social media.

By Monday morning, at least 15 Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats had made it clear they would oppose the bill, raising questions about whether Mr. Schumer and Mr. McConnell would be able to muster the 60 votes needed for passage.

“Make no mistake, a gauntlet has been thrown and America must pick it up,” McConnell said Monday afternoon about delivering critical funds to Ukraine.

In an unusual twist that further highlighted the divide between Republicans, a Senate GOP leadership aide who insisted on anonymity on Monday evening distributed a point-by-point rebuttal to the House Republican leaders’ statement calling for the Criticized the bill.

But later, in a private meeting with Republicans, Mr. McConnell recommended they vote “no” on Wednesday to force Democrats to allow them to propose changes to the bill, according to people familiar with his comments and they have described on condition of anonymity. And he did nothing to persuade his colleagues not to oppose the measure, bowing to an increasingly obvious reality.

In public, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican who joined Mr. McConnell in pushing for the bipartisan deal, was noncommittal and suggested that members of his party might be reluctant to support a measure criticized as too weak if it couldn’t become law.

“People want a result,” he told reporters. “They want an outcome as we go through this process.”

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who served as the lead Republican negotiator for the border agreement, couldn’t hide his frustration with his own party as he tried to explain the final product, released after more than three months of daily negotiations. The same Republicans who had complained that they needed more time to read the bill rushed to denounce it on social media, according to Mr. Lankford.

“Are we as Republicans going to hold press conferences and complain about the bad border and then intentionally leave it open after the worst month in American history, December?” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

The answer was a resounding yes. And late Monday night, even he refused to say whether he would vote to pass his package.

Some progressive senators also said the deal failed to achieve its goal.

Sen. Alex Padilla of California, who is of Hispanic descent, condemned the bill for failing to provide relief for Dreamers and making it harder for migrants to obtain asylum. He complained that not a single member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was included in the negotiations.

“While bipartisanship requires political compromise, it does not require compromising our nation’s core values,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Global Refuge, calling the bill a waiver of “our legal and moral obligations to human beings who seek refuge.” .”

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-largest Democrat, said in a statement that he had only cautious support for the bill, particularly because the future and fate of Europe depended on it.

“Bipartisan agreement may be helpful, but nothing short of comprehensive reform will truly solve this problem,” he said in a carefully worded statement. On the Senate floor, he lamented the fact that the measure would provide no relief to Dreamers.

“Without action from Congress, they spent every day in fear of being deported,” he said. “They grew up alongside our children; Many have served our nation.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Monday night that Ukraine’s funding was not sufficient reason to support a bill that contains policies that are inconsistent with its values.

“We cannot simply throw up our hands and accept bad immigration policies that exclude asylum and could set back true bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform by 10 to 15 years for temporary relief,” California Rep. Nanette Barragán, the caucus chair, said in a statement.

Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.

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2024-02-06 04:12:48