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Lankford in May 2023

Lankford looks to reassure antsy GOP senators on border talks

A border-security and immigration deal hasn’t yet been clinched — and may never be — but Senate Republican leaders are already working to mollify skeptical conservatives.

At a closed-door Senate GOP Conference meeting Wednesday, Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), the lead Republican negotiator, sought to reassure his colleagues on the direction of the talks by insisting that Democrats hate the proposed policy changes on the table, according to several attendees.

Some of those have been agreed to in principle already, but there’s no overall deal yet because Democrats are resisting GOP efforts to restrict presidential parole authority. Democrats cite long-standing precedent allowing the president to parole groups of people for humanitarian or other purposes. Republicans have said there won’t be a deal without these changes.

“Unless all of it gets tightened down into lower numbers and parole is really addressed… that’s the pivot point,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said after the meeting. “We’re a ways away. And will it dovetail with what the House is interested in? To me, there’s some distance there too.”

Cross-Capitol dynamics: Senate GOP leaders remain openly concerned about House Republicans’ willingness to take up any Senate deal on border security and foreign aid.

“If we send them something and they try to amend it, I just don’t know where the votes come from,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said. “Because there are going to be Republicans over there for whom nothing’s going to be good enough unless it’s H.R. 2.”

Senators generally believe a deal is within reach. But a number of GOP senators have complained that there wouldn’t be enough enforcement mechanisms written into the law, giving the Biden administration too much discretion in setting policy.

Lankford tried to quell those concerns by noting that a future Republican president — perhaps as soon as next year — would be empowered to take drastic steps to reduce border crossings, according to senators who attended the meeting.

Senators close to the talks have been emphasizing this in public as well.

“It’s going to be dependent in the short-term on President Biden’s willingness to abide by that and to actually enforce it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “But I do think there is some benefit longer-term to making changes in border security that then could be enforced by the next president.”

Republicans also discussed the idea of capping the number of migrants who can be paroled and released into the country while their cases await adjudication. This was already under discussion even before the Senate GOP huddle.

“For example, we cap refugees,” Thune said earlier Wednesday. “Maybe there’s a way you can put a cap on the number of people and significantly reduce the abuse of that [parole] authority.”

So far, there are few indications that the closed-door meeting did anything to reassure conservatives who are skeptical of the talks. Some said they believe Senate leaders will try to attach an eventual agreement to a must-pass bill — such as a funding measure — as a way to jam it through.

“I kind of doubt we do the supplemental as a standalone, just because I don’t think the House will take that up,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said.

— Andrew Desiderio

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