General News

Senate GOP blocks border deal; future of Ukraine, Israel aid unclear – The Washington Post

The Senate voted down a sweeping national security and border reform package on Wednesday after most Senate Republicans banded together with a handful of Democrats to reject the legislation their leadership helped negotiate.

The bill included more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion and $14 billion for Israel in its war in Gaza, and has long been a top national security priority for President Biden.

Senators now will proceed to another vote on the national security aid — which also includes billions for Indo-Pacific allies and $10 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, Ukraine and other nations — without the border reforms. That legislation early Wednesday appeared to have growing support to overcome a procedural hurdle, but Republican senators emerged from an afternoon meeting with less optimism about its future.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said there was a “very spirited” debate within the Republican conference over lunch about whether to vote to proceed to the original supplemental now or delay until the lawmakers have more information about the amendment process.

“We just hope they can come to a yes on something,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Feb. 7 said the Senate would vote on funding for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan if the border deal is blocked. (Video: The Washington Post)

The vote caps an unusual week for the Senate, after Republicans who said they would not aid U.S. allies before addressing the influx of migrants at the U.S. border promptly slammed the very deal they had demanded hours after it was released. Former president Donald Trump, who has made the border a core campaign issue, criticized and mischaracterized the bill, arguing that only reelecting him president can fix the border, which contributed to its rapid collapse of support. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) also made it clear the bill would not receive a vote in his chamber.

“This whole thing is outrageous,” said Sen Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich. “It’s really embarrassing for the United States Senate.” She said the Republican suggestion to delay the vote for after the Senate’s two-week recess would be a “gift to Vladimir Putin.”

In an angry floor speech ahead of the vote, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the bill’s chief GOP negotiator, said he was disappointed that some of his colleagues were deciding not to try to solve the border crisis simply because it’s a presidential election year. Lankford also said he was threatened by a “popular commentator” who told him, “If you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you.”

The $118 billion bill includes sweeping changes to the nation’s asylum system and a mechanism to effectively shut down the border to most migrants when crossings are particularly high. It was endorsed by the staunchly conservative union for Border Patrol officers and slammed by refugee rights groups including Amnesty International USA as containing “the most extreme anti-immigrant proposals this country has seen in 100 years.”

But a growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill painted the legislation as too soft.

Johnson and his leadership team — who initially demanded House-passed border reforms be attached to Ukraine funding — spelled out their grievances in a joint statement, saying the legislation “fails” to secure the border and would encourage more illegal immigration.

“Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time,” they wrote. “It is DEAD on arrival in the House. We encourage the U.S. Senate to reject it.”

Johnson did not say how he would handle the supplemental bill without the border provisions. “We’ll see what the Senate does,” he told reporters.

Trump also slammed the bill’s lead negotiator as he derided the final product.

“This is a very bad bill for his career,” Trump said of Lankford, who is among the conference’s most conservative members, in an interview with radio host Dan Bongino on Monday.

The incident has been embarrassing for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose staff helped negotiate the bill, given just three Senate Republicans publicly supported the deal. McConnell, the longest-serving party leader in the Senate, has made backing Ukraine and the U.S. commitment to NATO a core issue. But he has had trouble finding a way to deliver the votes from his conference given the issue’s unpopularity among the base and Johnson’s insistence that he would not pass it without strict border reforms attached.

On Feb. 6, just days after the draft of a bipartisan border bill was released, lawmakers are baffled by its demise. (Video: Rhonda Colvin/The Washington Post)

A number of Senate Republicans are headed next week to the Munich Security Conference, where Ukraine’s fate will be top of mind.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and several other Republicans said on Tuesday they planned to vote to proceed on the original national security supplemental after the border bill fails. “Now I think we have to move on to Ukraine, Israel and continue to govern,” he said.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he believed “that Ukraine funding was largely supported in this chamber.”