Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to scrap the chamber’s scheduled recess next week may have inspired confidence that a border security-for-Ukraine deal is in the offing — possibly even before Christmas.
We’re here to remind you that the same structural problems with these talks that existed before Thursday didn’t just magically resolve themselves. In some ways, they may have gotten worse over the last 24 hours.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Schumer had this to say when he extolled the importance of agreeing to fund Ukraine by Christmas: “This might be one of the most difficult things we have ever had to work through.”
The obvious: Yes, you’ve heard it over and over again: Immigration reform is one of the most highly charged, emotionally fraught issues in American politics. It gets to the very definition of who can be an American.
But it’s also extraordinarily difficult to write legislative text on immigration. And if there’s even a framework or one-page agreement next week, lawmakers and interest groups on the left and right will get a chance to whack it for several weeks while Congress is gone for the holidays.
“There’s apprehension that people may get shots from their base who are somehow gonna come after them — I mean, cry me a river,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who’s close to the negotiations. “I’ve been censured 30 times by state and local GOPs. This bipartisan stuff is hard. They need to step up and do it.”
Tillis lamented that conservative groups have already added to their legislative scorecard a vote opposing the bipartisan talks. “We have literally had people on our side of the aisle key-voting just the idea of negotiating. It’s dumb,” Tillis said.
Still, Republicans are making it clear they won’t vote to advance a shell bill next week without seeing legislative text. In other words, a framework isn’t enough. Many GOP senators aren’t even planning to come back to Washington, especially since the Senate is expected to kill time by voting mostly on nominations.
“We’re staying to do nominations at this point,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the chief GOP negotiator, told us. “If we get the work done, we’ll get the work done.”
There’s a hope among Democrats that any framework agreement — if one comes together — could be credible enough for GOP Ukraine hawks to vote to advance it on the floor. This would require 60 votes. That’s nine GOP votes if all Democrats and independents are present and voting yes.
This is unlikely. Democrats think they’re making it harder for Republicans to resist striking a deal by moving ever closer to the GOP’s demands. Yet Republicans complain Schumer is just trying to bait them with an unreasonable timetable.
“When the administration and the Democrats come to a place where we get the policy right, we’ll be ready to vote,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said. “But I don’t, honestly, realistically, see how that happens [next week].”
They also see no point in moving forward with an undertaking like this without knowing whether the House is interested in taking up and passing it.
“As we’ve seen recently, just because the speaker supports something doesn’t mean the House will go along with it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “There’s no reason for us to rush to pass something that’s dead on arrival in the House.”
GOP primary: The Republican presidential primary officially kicks off with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23. That means we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more of Donald Trump, if that’s possible. Trump is also facing civil and criminal trial dates throughout all this.
If you think Trump will resist taking shots at any agreement that funds Ukraine and includes modest border or immigration policy changes, you’re mistaken.
This is Trump’s party. If he criticizes or comes out against any tentative deal, that creates serious problems for its prospects, especially in the House.
Already, a sizable chunk of House Republicans won’t support Ukraine funding no matter what. If you take H.R. 2 – the House GOP’s harsh immigration and border security bill – and attach Ukraine funding to it, many Republicans in that chamber would still oppose it. That hangs over everything happening in these negotiations.
Progressives: Any immigration deal will include policy changes that progressives and pro-immigration groups abhor. All week, they’ve been putting pressure on the White House to not cave to Republicans’ demands, which they say would be a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s base.
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) has been in touch with White House officials all week urging them to hold the line. Padilla told us he’s “very doubtful” about Schumer’s timetable and said the White House has been “noncommittal.”
“I’ve been very, very clear with the White House,” Padilla added. He declined to say whether it’s better for there to be no deal at all than for the White House to agree to the border restrictions under consideration in exchange for Ukraine aid.
To be sure, many Democrats are comfortable with Schumer’s strategy here. They want to at least show Congress is trying to un-stick Ukraine aid before year’s end.
“This is a surge effort,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said. “I think this is, lock everybody in a room over the weekend and see how far they can get.”
— Andrew Desiderio