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McConnell and Lankford

Brawl erupts in Senate GOP over border security supplemental

After months of secret negotiations, the Senate’s bipartisan border security and foreign aid package is finally here. Here’s a summary of the bill.

The legislation, estimated to cost $118 billion, amounts to a dramatic rewrite of key parts of U.S. immigration law, including slashing the number of migrants eligible for asylum and altering how those claims get processed.

The package would also provide $60 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, an issue that has become extraordinarily controversial on Capitol Hill due to growing GOP opposition. There are billions of dollars for Israel, the Indo-Pacific region and ongoing U.S. military operations in the Middle East as well.

But the bill’s release Sunday night was like pouring gasoline on the fire that is the Senate GOP internal war. Senators and aides publicly and privately questioned whether a majority of the Republican Conference would back it, a key metric. There were even calls for an immediate leadership change from some GOP senators and conservative outside groups.

Top Republicans back proposal: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, fiercely defended the bill on Sunday after its release. McConnell will brief Senate Republicans on the bill this evening, we’re told. That isn’t likely to mollify conservatives, who are already calling the bill “atrocious” and “a magnet for more illegal immigration.”

During a press call Sunday evening, Lankford said those criticizing the proposal had already come out against it before the text was released, so he didn’t expect them to reverse course.

“If we have a crisis on our southern border, and we do… we should address that and do what we can to be able to solve that problem — not just hope that the problem gets better or hope that an election solves the issue,” Lankford said.

Let’s acknowledge that Lankford and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), the three chief negotiators on the border security package, defied the odds by even reaching a compromise on an issue as politically sensitive as immigration.

But it’s unclear if there’s a path to 60 votes in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell are counting on a center-right plus center-left supermajority of the Senate to vote for this measure. There’s no guarantee of enough support there. (Here are statements from Murphy, Lankford, Sinema, the White House and Schumer).

The opposition: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said definitively that the House would not vote on this measure. Speaker Mike Johnson termed the bill “dead on arrival.”

Lankford said in response to these statements that he’s “a little confused… at how it could be ‘worse than expected.’” The Oklahoma Republican added he wants to huddle with the speaker’s team. Of course, Johnson’s statement will undoubtedly cause some on-the-fence GOP senators to vote against the bill.

“We’re at the beginning points of information,” Lankford asserted, dismissing the House GOP criticisms. “There are some people who just read Facebook posts… They made their decision based on the Facebook posts, not the text.”

But hardline Senate GOP conservatives are furious over the proposal, saying it will do nothing to stop the flow of migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. And after Schumer said Sunday, “I have never worked more closely with Leader McConnell on any piece of legislation as we did on this,” McConnell’s Republican critics pounced.

That prompted Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a leading detractor of both the bill and McConnell, to quote-tweet us with this response: “The bromance continues…” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said, “That’s the problem.”

Lee later tweeted a call for “new leadership” and described the bill as a “disqualifying betrayal.” McConnell’s opponents clearly want to make a move against him. Whether that actually materializes is an entirely different question.

It’s hard to see how this bill will win over a majority of Senate Republicans at this point, which is what McConnell and others in leadership had sought. There’s already internal GOP discussion over whether McConnell — whom conservatives accuse of using the border provisions as cover for more Ukraine funding — will try to split the two off.

The path forward: Schumer reiterated Sunday night that the first procedural vote will be on Wednesday. This will be a critical test.

We expect several progressives to oppose the plan as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did so on Sunday due to the Israel funding. Hispanic lawmakers and pro-immigration groups such as the ACLU are already taking aim at the changes to immigration policy. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) called it a “new version of Trump-era policies that will cause more chaos at the border.”

On the House side: The House Republican leadership has signaled it will move beyond the Senate’s bipartisan proposal. This week, Johnson plans to put on the floor a bill to send $17.6 billion to Israel without any spending cuts, a reversal of his earlier approach.

This also comes as Johnson and GOP leaders push Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ impeachment. A floor vote is expected later this week.

The Israel legislation is already hitting some headwinds in the House. The House Freedom Caucus said Sunday it was opposed to the bill because it lacks offsets. Johnson has the ability to put the bill on the floor under suspension of the rules, which would require a two-thirds majority for passage.

— Andrew Desiderio, John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman

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