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Lots of talk, but no border deal

Congress’s January schedule is about to get a lot busier.

A marathon weekend of talks on a border-security plus immigration package that could unlock billions of dollars in Ukraine aid yielded significant progress but no deal, according to senators from both parties. Negotiators on both sides acknowledged Sunday night that there’s not going to be a floor vote on an agreement anytime soon.

That means Congress may have a complicated and politically thorny legislative proposal on its plate when lawmakers return to Washington in 2024 – all while they’ll be just days away from a government shutdown. We have more on that below.

GOP senators had already made clear they wouldn’t vote to advance any foreign-aid bill without seeing legislative text on the border-security and immigration provisions. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, sent a note to colleagues reiterating that Republicans aren’t feeling rushed to reach a deal this week.

The pair added that if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer moves forward with plans to hold a procedural vote this week, “it would not succeed.”

Lankford told reporters Sunday that his letter with McConnell remained operative after three more hours of closed-door negotiations.

This is news: Lankford was calling individual GOP senators this weekend to tell them that the remaining hang-ups in the talks likely won’t be resolved before January, according to three sources familiar with the conversations. The outstanding issues in the negotiations touch on some of the most complex and controversial immigration policies, including parole and expedited removal of migrants.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, had said the group would need to release a framework by Monday in order to conceivably vote later in the week. On Sunday, Murphy suggested that wasn’t imminent and acknowledged GOP concerns about the legislative text.

“Obviously, nobody’s voting on this until they have time to review the text,” Murphy said. “Our job is to get this done as quickly as we can.”

The Senate negotiators — Lankford, Murphy and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — have all emphasized the intricacy of immigration law and the need to constantly evaluate whether any emerging proposal would satisfy enough lawmakers in both parties and both chambers. This is another signal that the effort won’t be ready for prime time for quite a while — if it ever happens.

“We’ve got lots of issues to work through, in which there are many different ways to try and address and solve problems,” Sinema said. “And that allows us to bring the votes of both houses and both parties.”

The Senate is scheduled to hold votes on nominations this week. Schumer has already teed up votes on executive and judicial nominees.

Schumer also wants to approve roughly a dozen military promotions that are still being blocked by Republicans. This would take a considerable amount of floor time without consent.

The Senate has another must-pass bill left on its agenda, too — a short-term FAA reauthorization. The FAA’s current authorities are set to expire Dec. 31.

It’s entirely possible that Schumer could send senators home for Christmas after clearing the FAA reauthorization, knowing that a procedural vote to advance the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan-border package will almost certainly fail.

Left-right synergy: Conservatives and progressives alike are criticizing the ongoing talks — albeit for different reasons — suggesting Senate leaders and the White House are inappropriately fast-tracking the negotiations. Both factions are taking steps to slow-walk the process.

On Sunday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) led a group of 15 conservative senators in a letter to Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) requesting a conference-wide meeting on what they called the “rushed and secret negotiations with Democrats.”

The senators requested that the meeting take place no earlier than the week of Jan. 8. Both chambers are set to come back in session that week following the holiday recess.

It’s important to remember that many of the conservatives who signed this letter aren’t likely to support Ukraine aid. But it represents an effort to pressure their leadership to allow House Republicans to weigh in on any proposal.

Across the aisle, progressives and Hispanic lawmakers are continuing to push the White House to reject Republicans’ border demands.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met virtually over the weekend with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

During the meeting, according to two sources familiar, the lawmakers said the White House wasn’t sufficiently communicating with the CHC about the various proposals on the table. NBC News first reported on the meeting.

— Andrew Desiderio and Mica Soellner

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