Just 17 Republicans showed up for Senate votes Monday night — and only 61 senators total. It’s yet another sign that the Senate’s negotiations on border security and immigration aren’t going to lead to a floor vote this week. If it wasn’t clear already, reality is setting in that this will be a January story.
And the senators who actually showed up had some pretty stern warnings about what next month could look like.
While the negotiators are still citing “progress,” the January pile-up on a massive foreign-aid supplemental and FY 2024 appropriations is coming into greater focus. The Big Four party leaders and the White House have yet to decide on a topline for the 12 annual spending bills. Plus, kicking the foreign-aid package to January gives former President Donald Trump an opening to tank everything.
That’s why Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he wants to get a bill out the door “as quickly as possible.” Congress is “playing with fire,” Murphy added, as Ukraine’s “peril becomes more serious and more immediate.” The White House said Monday the Pentagon has enough money left for one more Ukraine aid package — and that’s it.
But that dire situation hasn’t accelerated the timetable for a Senate deal. Negotiators keep emphasizing to us the complexities of immigration law and the importance of spending enough time to get it right. Murphy said the bipartisan group hasn’t yet decided how they’re going to roll out any agreement to the public, including whether that starts with a framework or delays until there’s bill text — if that happens.
Fast-forward to January: Congress will have 10 days to avert a partial government shutdown once lawmakers return to town. Senators are already talking about pairing a funding bill with the supplemental package, which could create a whole new set of problems. At the same time, Trump will be aggressively campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. The 2024 GOP presidential nomination race formally kicks off on Jan. 15 in Iowa.
Republican senators on Monday roundly condemned the former president’s remarks about immigrants over the weekend. Trump said undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” It reminded them that Trump continues to have huge sway among the GOP base and could very well put enough pressure on Republicans — particularly in the House — to kill any bipartisan deal.
“Anybody on the outside who is looking at running for public office, particularly the presidency, should be trying to fix the situations we’ve got right now, not creating problems for people trying to solve them,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a Trump skeptic, said when asked about the former president’s role.
Rounds was among the 17 Republican senators who showed up Monday night. He’s undoubtedly part of the universe of GOP senators who could vote for an eventual border security-for-Ukraine package. It almost seemed as if these 17 voting Monday included most, if not all, of the Republicans who’d even consider backing such a deal in the end.
January will also be dominated by appropriations and the potential for two separate shutdown deadlines. Senate Minority Whip John Thune said Democratic leaders “wasted” the last two months by not passing more FY 2024 spending bills. The result, Thune said, is that “you’re gonna have a huge fight over spending — both in January and in February.” All while trying to pass the supplemental.
We’ll note that conservatives blocked action for weeks on a bipartisan minibus spending package, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s scheduling decisions in the weeks since have also come under scrutiny.
When asked about the lack of agreement on a topline spending number, Thune threw up his hands and responded: “Yeah, that’s a problem.” And it’s safe to say Senate Republicans are looking at the House with negative confidence.
The House has passed seven of the 12 annual spending bills, while the Senate has approved only three. But Senate Appropriations cleared all of its bills on a bipartisan basis, something that House Appropriations wasn’t able to do.
Could the looming January pile-up have been avoided? Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the chief GOP border negotiator, made the point Monday night that if the White House had come to the negotiating table sooner, the year-end scramble and impending January time crunch could have been sidestepped. Republicans released their initial offer in early November, and the bipartisan talks didn’t get serious until the White House jumped in earlier this month.
The result is a hesitance by members from both parties to publish a framework or even publicly comment on what’s on the table before the Christmas break. This would allow opponents on the left and the right to bludgeon the agreement before the Senate gets a chance to vote on it.
However, there are very real frustrations about the potential emerging deal. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has openly questioned the White House’s strategy, lamented Monday night that he still doesn’t have any definitive answers about the changes to immigration and border-security policy that are under consideration. And he criticized the White House for its willingness to entertain provisions that are “very similar to those under President Donald Trump, authored by Stephen Miller.”
— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan