Jan 31, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Border deal on life support as negotiators battle "misinformation"

James Lankford

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

After four months of intensive negotiations, the Senate is on the verge of abandoning a bipartisan border security deal that Republicans once demanded as a precondition to new military aid for Ukraine.

Why it matters: The bill text hasn't even been released, as furious negotiators are keen to point out. But the toxic realities of election-year politics — including an intervention from former President Trump — have pushed the deal to the precipice of collapse.

What they're saying: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has used rumors of the bill's contents to pronounce it "dead on arrival," but some Senate Republicans have been holding out hope that the dynamic will change once text is released.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, said he's been meeting with Republicans one-on-one to clear up "misinformation" about the bill.
  • "I go back to the most basic principle of an Abraham Lincoln quote that's my favorite: 'Don't believe everything you read on the internet,'" Lankford quipped dryly to reporters.
  • "The rumors that are swirling about what this does and doesn't do are wrong," said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), another key negotiator who briefed reporters on specific provisions of the bill Wednesday.

The intrigue: Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) even suggested Russian disinformation could be the source of some online messaging against the bill, telling Politico: "[S]ome people would rather not see funding for Ukraine."

State of play: Senate Republicans emerged from a conference lunch Wednesday with no consensus on the path forward — other than the urgent need for bill text to be released.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seemed to open the door to a standalone funding package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — potentially dropping the GOP's border conditions after months of linkage.
  • "There is bipartisan support here in the Senate for both Israel and Ukraine. Hopefully, at some point, we can get them the support they need," McConnell said.
  • "I'd still like to move forward on the border deal, but … sand's going through the hourglass," Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said about Ukraine and Israel's military needs.

What to watch: Standalone funding for Ukraine would present its own massive hurdles, especially in the House.

  • "Some people said, 'Well, I won't vote for Ukraine if I don't have a border bill.' But now some of those same people are saying, 'I don't like the border proposal,'" Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) mused.
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has threatened to introduce a motion to vacate against Johnson if he allows a vote on Ukraine funding, even though the war effort has broad bipartisan support in the House.

The bottom line: There's a reason it's been decades since Congress has made any substantive change to immigration law. The policy is complicated — and the politics are dicey even in non-presidential election years.

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