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US-MEXICO-BORDER

Will the Senate GOP use supplemental to force a border security debate?

Congress’ ability to fund key national security priorities could hinge on clinching even a modest deal to address one of the most vexing political challenges in the last 50 years.

A key portion of President Joe Biden’s emergency funding request is dedicated to addressing the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, a decades-long problem that several generations of presidents and Hill leaders have failed to resolve.

Democrats reason that including funding to reduce illegal migrant crossings and stop the flow of deadly fentanyl through the border could help convince skeptical Republicans to back the overall package, which includes tens of billions of dollars in aid for Israel and Ukraine.

But GOP lawmakers in both chambers are already panning the idea of combining Israel and Ukraine aid into one bill, so the border provisions could come under even more scrutiny.

And Republicans will have tremendous leverage to demand more than just extra funding to beef up the border.

“This is a time for American strength, not just more money,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the GOP Conference chair. “That means a real change in strategy and policy when it comes to dealing with terrorists and lawless American borders.”

Democrats argue that a supplemental funding request — which, by its nature, carries urgency — isn’t the place to force broader policy debates, especially ones as complicated as immigration reform.

“It depends on whether Republicans are on board with doing an actual supplemental or whether they think this is a rider to settle all sorts of policy grievances,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “It’s just not clear to me that Republicans are serious about sticking to the numbers instead of layering a lot of additional policy on there.”

The risk here for Republicans is that they’d be standing in the way of priorities that nearly all of them support, such as new military assistance for Israel and Taiwan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have already endorsed the idea of tying the issues together into one package, so this is the direction the Senate will go in.

But McConnell has also said that the border provisions must be “serious” and “credible.” When Senate leaders craft a bipartisan funding bill based on Biden’s $100 billion-plus request, McConnell will have a major say in what that looks like — including the border provisions.

Recent history suggests that attempting to find something resembling a grand bargain on border and immigration policies won’t happen.

Just a few weeks ago, a group of Senate Republicans worked with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) to craft an amendment to the stopgap funding bill to address problems at the border. The hope was this would convince hardline Republicans to back the underlying funding bill.

This proved to be a fruitless effort. Not only did Congress go a completely different direction with the stopgap package, but the Senate group never came up with border policy changes that could pass both chambers — even amid mounting bipartisan frustration at Biden’s handling of the border.

The surest way to mitigate the crisis at the border as quickly as possible, Democrats argue, is a funding patch.

“The border is always difficult,” Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told us. “There’s a lot of debate about what some of the policies are, and that’s a fair debate. But it’s unlikely in the supplemental that there will be a lot of room to address that. And you do need security [at the border].”

— Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.