Dec 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Senators anxiously eye calendar as national security bill languishes

Sen. James Lankford. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Senators are growing increasingly pessimistic that they will be able to pass an emergency national security spending package before their scheduled departure for the holidays next week.

Why it matters: The legislation as presently written includes more than $100 billion for Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and border security, which many lawmakers view as critical funding targets.

  • It's not yet clear whether the Senate would be more likely to stay past Dec. 15 or break for the holidays and regroup next year – but some senators say they're willing to stay through Christmas if necessary.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) failed to garner the votes necessary to begin consideration of President Biden's version of the bill on Wednesday.

  • The Senate voted 49-51, roughly along party lines, short of the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – who has been critical of several elements of the bill, in particular its military assistance to Israel – voted with Republicans against it.
  • The vote came after bipartisan Senate negotiations on offsetting Ukraine aid with more restrictive border policies stalled.

What they're saying: "There are too many moving parts," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of GOP leadership involved in the negotiations.

  • "We've got to get the border right. I think we're working towards that, we're working towards Christmas, but there are a lot of moving parts," he added.
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) acknowledged "it will be difficult" to get the package done by the end of next week.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he doesn't think it can get done by next week – or even by the end of the year "unless there's a breakthrough on the border."

State of play: Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the Republican point-person in the negotiations, cast the failed vote on Wednesday as an opportunity to "reset" and "keep doing the work."

  • Lankford acknowledged that Republicans likely won't be able to get their party-line border legislation included: "They didn't get any Democrats in the House on that and we're not going to be able to get any Democrats in the Senate on it."
  • But his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), suggested the two sides are still far from an agreement, telling reporters "if the room is just a forum to make unreasonable demands, I've got other things I can do with my time."
  • "If we're going to actually sit down and negotiate, and Republicans are going to move and we're going to move, then let's sit down and talk," he added.

Some senators have floated President Biden getting directly involved in talks, though both Lankford and Murphy pushed back on the notion that his direct involvement is necessary to break the logjam.

  • "He's the president ... he's in charge of his party," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the value of Biden joining the talks.
  • Biden said Wednesday he is willing to compromise on border policy in order to get a deal done on Ukraine funding.

Between the lines: Schumer raised the prospect of staying through Christmas in a letter last month, warning senators to "be prepared to stay in Washington until we finish our work."

  • "If I got to be here on f**king Christmas day I'll be here ... because Ukraine funding needs to be done," said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). "I'm willing to stay here 24/7 to get it done."

Editor's note: This article was corrected to note that Sen. Lankford represents Oklahoma, not Indiana.

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