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James Lankford

Senate border talks break down

News: Senate Democrats walked away Friday from negotiations with Republicans on border policy changes, citing what they describe as intractable GOP demands on asylum and parole reform, according to two sources involved in the talks.

This is a big development that casts further doubt on the Senate’s ability to pass a huge $105 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Ukraine stands to be the biggest potential loser here as future funding for the embattled U.S. ally is in serious jeopardy. It’s a critical moment for President Joe Biden and congressional leaders who have backed Ukraine, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The breakdown in the bipartisan Senate talks, according to these sources, stems from Republicans’ continued insistence on including elements of H.R. 2, the House GOP border-security bill that’s a non-starter for Democrats.

Senate Republicans have vowed to block any foreign aid bill that doesn’t include significant policy changes to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many Democrats agree that the crisis at the border must be addressed.

But the bipartisan negotiations did not continue into the weekend as initially planned, according to these sources, and it’s unclear if and when they could resume.

There’s more: Speaker Mike Johnson told other congressional leaders late last week that he won’t pair Ukraine aid with anything less than H.R. 2, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been repeating, both in public and in private, that H.R. 2 will never pass the Senate. An aide to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reiterated to us Sunday night that H.R. 2 is a “non-starter.” No Democrats voted for the GOP package back in May when the House passed it.

Schumer is expected to tee up the floor process for the foreign aid package — without Republicans’ border demands — as soon as today. That would set up a cloture vote later this week, on Wednesday or Thursday. This will be a crucial moment for Republicans, especially defense hawks like McConnell.

GOP senators have said they’re happy to filibuster the supplemental, believing this will force Democrats to more seriously consider their border-related demands. Of course, a failed vote risks sending an alarming message to the world about U.S. support for Ukraine. But leadership aides in both parties tell us that wouldn’t mean that the supplemental is dead.

We’ll note, however, that this would be the third time since late September that Congress has failed to act on Ukraine funding, even as the situation there is clearly getting more urgent by the day. Biden administration officials and congressional leaders keep stating that the United States won’t leave Ukraine in the lurch, but no one has shown a realistic path to passing more aid, especially with the growing House GOP opposition.

McConnell has been especially vocal on the need to support Ukraine. The Kentucky Republican has been meeting privately with a group of GOP senators to walk through strategies for passing an aid package, according to multiple sources. But McConnell knows he can’t do anything unless the border crisis is addressed as well.

Democrats’ decision to step back from the talks on Friday could all be a negotiating tactic. Democrats have acknowledged Republicans’ concerns about the border but don’t believe politically dicey immigration policies should be part of an overwhelmingly bipartisan foreign aid package. Of course, Congress has long failed to pass meaningful legislation on immigration and border security.

What happened: Although senators left town on Thursday afternoon, negotiating sessions were still scheduled to be held throughout the weekend. But the talks broke down on Friday evening and haven’t resumed since, according to sources directly involved in the discussions.

Democratic negotiators determined that Republicans were unable or unwilling to accept their compromises on border security, we’re told. So the talks ended then and aren’t scheduled to restart.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, was on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning continuing to push for border policy changes. Lankford noted that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has even called for reforms to the asylum system. And interestingly, Lankford cited “progress” in the bipartisan talks.

In the meantime, the White House is putting new pressure on Congress to take action on the president’s supplemental funding request.

In a letter to congressional leaders this morning, White House budget director Shalanda Young writes that without congressional action before year’s end, the Pentagon “will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks.”

Young’s letter essentially says Russia is poised for significant gains in Ukraine without new U.S. aid:

Senators will receive a classified briefing Tuesday afternoon on Ukraine and Israel.

— Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman

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