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McConnell

Senate GOP poised to block border deal — for now

The Senate’s $118 billion bipartisan border security supplemental stunningly unraveled Monday less than 24 hours after it was released, with top Republicans reversing their previous positions and indicating they’ll block the measure from advancing for the time being.

A number of GOP senators came out against the proposal on Monday. They ranged from the Senate Republican Conference’s most conservative members to defense hawks who want to see Ukraine funded. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team and some of his closest allies rejected the package.

This wave of opposition prompted McConnell to recommend to Republicans behind closed doors Monday night that they vote against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill this week, according to multiple attendees — effectively halting the effort in its tracks and throwing new aid to Ukraine into serious jeopardy.

McConnell, according to attendees, said his view was that the problem isn’t the bill itself but that the political mood in the country has shifted since the Senate first began this effort four months ago. This is a reference to former President Donald Trump’s surge toward the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, plus the poor outlook for the proposal among House GOP lawmakers.

McConnell still backs the underlying bill, but he made this recommendation after it became clear that most Republicans were preparing to vote “no,” either because they oppose the legislation outright or want more time to consider and, potentially, try to amend it.

McConnell’s reversal — first signaled two weeks ago — still surprised some GOP senators. While McConnell’s aides insisted he’d made no recommendation either way, both supporters and opponents saw his comments as a free pass for any wavering Republicans to vote no.

Several Republicans who are generally supportive of the bipartisan measure effort — drafted by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — said they want guarantees from leadership on the amendment process before voting for cloture to advance the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has teed up a Wednesday procedural vote, which is now almost certain to fail.

“You’re not going to get it done in three days and get an agreement on an amendment process,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who said he’d vote against cloture but still wants to move forward with the process. “Let’s not quit now and lose everything because we didn’t give people enough time to digest it.”

“A bill of this magnitude being brought to the floor in 48 hours is really rushing,” added Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a defense hawk who backs Ukraine funding.

Even Lankford, the lead GOP negotiator, wouldn’t say if he plans to vote to advance the bill, citing the fact that very few Republicans are ready to do so. Lankford, however, still insisted the effort isn’t dead:

After the 90-minute meeting, McConnell told reporters that the discussions would continue. His deputy, Minority Whip John Thune, indicated it’s likely that GOP senators filibuster the bill because they believe Wednesday is “too early” to kick off the process.

But with all the momentum turning against a bipartisan deal, a delay is almost certainly fatal. Those Republicans who oppose Ukraine funding, as well as GOP senators who don’t want to hand a victory to President Joe Biden in an election year, aren’t going to support it no matter what. And it’s unclear if there would be enough Republicans willing to move ahead with the bill after a failed procedural vote on Wednesday.

“There is broad consensus that we’re not going to grant cloture this week,” added Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of the leading critics of the bill. “The division from there is, is the bill salvageable? Or salvageable with a lot of work? Or is it dead? … But I think there are a lot of Republicans who want to debate and work on it.”

The House GOP leadership’s refusal to even consider putting the Senate bill on the floor is likely to have an impact, too. And Trump has been in overdrive trying to sink it.

“It’s complicated,” Thune said. “Obviously, people want a result, they want an outcome if they’re going to go through this process. To make law around here, you’ve got to get it through the House and Senate.”

GOP senators said they plan to discuss the issue again at today’s weekly policy lunch.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans are still taking open shots at one another.

“Leader McConnell made the decision not to force the Biden administration, which is lawless, to secure the border,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a McConnell antagonist who opposes the border deal.

Democrats were seething after the Republicans’ meeting last night. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of his party’s leadership, said he was “just gobsmacked,” adding: “I’ve never seen anything like it. They literally demanded specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”

— Andrew Desiderio, Laura Weiss and Max Cohen

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