Jan 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump, House Republicans plot to kill border deal

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Big League Dreams Las Vegas

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Big League Dreams Las Vegas. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Republican and Democratic senators are taking to the airwaves, scrambling to pass severe restrictions on migrants flooding across the U.S.-Mexico border. There's just one thing: Their plan is all but dead.

Why it matters: The Senate might pass the plan, which would be one of the harshest immigration bills of the century. President Biden is ready to sign it. But House Republicans — egged on by former President Trump — already are planning to shut it down.

State of play: Illegal immigration has rocketed to the top of voters' concerns, and Biden has become increasingly desperate for a solution. Trump and conservative Republicans see a political opportunity to squeeze Biden and Democrats on the issue.

  • Trump, whose front-runner status in the Republican presidential race has solidified his leadership of the GOP, has loudly vowed to kill the bipartisan border deal.
  • "It's not going to happen, and I'll fight it all the way," Trump said Saturday in Nevada.

Zoom in: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has fallen in line. He called the deal "dead on arrival" on Friday, then doubled down over the weekend, claiming it wouldn't do enough to stop illegal border crossings.

  • He has said he talks frequently with Trump about the border.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned senators last week that Trump's opposition would make it difficult to get a border plan through Congress.
  • A sign of Trump's influence: Oklahoma's GOP voted Saturday to censure Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) for being a lead negotiator in the border policy discussions.

The details: The text of the border bill is expected to drop soon. It will include a measure that effectively would block illegal border crossers from asylum once the number of migrant encounters hits a daily average of 5,000 in a week or 8,500 on a single day, as Axios has reported.

  • Those restrictions would remain until illegal crossings drop and remain low for an extended period of time.
  • The deal also would expedite the asylum process and limit the use of parole to release migrants into the U.S.

The big picture: The migrant crisis at the border and in major U.S. cities is one of the most jeopardizing issues for Biden and Democrats this November.

  • It's also Trump's marquee political issue. He has every incentive to keep it front and center as he heads toward a likely rematch against Biden.
  • Biden has doubled down on a tougher border image in recent months, and has signaled his willingness to "shut down the border" if he's given new authority under the Senate agreement.

What they're saying: The White House is accusing Republicans of flip-flopping for politics — first supporting their own strict immigration bill and now saying Biden already has the authority to close the border.

  • "If Speaker Johnson continues to believe — as President Biden and Republicans and Democrats in Congress do — that we have an imperative to act immediately on the border, he should give this administration the authority and funding we're requesting," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
  • "Right now [the plan's critics] are functioning off of internet rumors of what's in the bill, and many of them are false," Lankford said on "Face the Nation," defending the plan he has been negotiating.
  • "I want to know how house R's square their support for H.R. 2 with their position now that we should do nothing," one senior GOP Senate aide told Axios, referring to a sweeping border bill passed by House Republicans last year.
  • Republicans "are redefining the terms of any debate for the future," one former Biden official told Axios. "A very extreme, enforcement-heavy package is now being rejected as not tough enough."
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