Jan 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate GOP gripped by discord over Trump-maligned border talks

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Senate Republicans this week are getting their own taste of the confusion and disarray that has plagued their House counterparts for the past year.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are trying to navigate internal division, external political pressure and ambiguous signals from leadership in pursuit of what many of them see as a critical national security package.

  • In addition to funding for the Israeli and Ukrainian war efforts, the package aims to address security in the Indo-Pacific and a growing crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Driving the news: Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) was in damage control mode following reports he signaled the odds of a deal are dwindling — in part due to opposition from former President Trump.

  • McConnell "made clear" on Thursday that he supports the GOP side of negotiations and "thinks we should be supportive of any work product that leads to greater border security," said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.).
  • "He said, 'I just want everybody to know my personal opinion is we absolutely need to do the border and Ukraine and Israel together as a package,'" said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
  • Senators in both parties said McConnell's comments helped buoy hopes for a deal. "The mood coming out of lunch was a good bit more positive than it was yesterday," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told Axios.

Yes, but: Despite McConnell's cleanup efforts, there is lingering doubt among some Senate Republicans that a deal will come to fruition and persistent opposition from Senate conservatives.

  • "I think it's slipping away. I think when Trump weighed in like he did – remember, that's the political force we're dealing with," said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who said the package's components should be split up.
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said he has seen GOP support "deteriorate" as talks have dragged on.
  • "I wouldn't bet my house on it," Kennedy told Axios on the odds of a deal happening. "And if I was betting your house, it would only be a maybe."

Zoom in: There has also been simmering anger among Republicans in both chambers over the belief that some lawmakers would like to wait until a second Trump administration to pass a border bill.

  • "Some would [like to wait]. It's cynical and risky at best," said one House Republican.
  • "They don't know how a bill becomes law. Go back to Schoolhouse Rock ... It is immoral for me to think you'd look the other way if you think this is the lynchpin for President Trump to win," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

The other side: Some Senate Democrats are growing impatient and mistrustful of their colleagues across the aisle.

  • "This is down to a political decision for Republicans as to whether they want to solve this problem or whether they want to keep it available for Donald Trump as a political wedge," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator.
Go deeper