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Lankford in May 2023

3 big questions about the Senate’s border security package

Senate Republicans on Wednesday once again debated the merits of moving forward with a bipartisan border-security package that would unlock billions of dollars in new aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Senate GOP leaders delivered a sobering warning to their members: The chances of securing support from at least half of the Republican Conference — leadership’s stated goal — are getting worse. Senate Minority Whip John Thune explicitly and repeatedly told Republicans that things are heading in the wrong direction, GOP senators said.

As we await the release of legislative text, we wanted to explore the three biggest questions that will determine the path forward.

Will Republicans back away? There’s no question that the tide is turning against the border security-Ukraine deal. With each passing day, Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Donald Trump are fueling opposition to the yet-to-be-released border security agreement negotiated out between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

Thune acknowledged Wednesday that the House’s hostility to the package is the “complicating factor” that many Republicans will take into consideration when they decide whether to vote for the supplemental.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders are desperate for the legislative text to be published in order to combat what they say is “misinformation” and “propaganda” being spread by Johnson and Trump about what’s actually in the bill.

“Everybody’s saying, ‘prove me wrong on this. Here’s an internet rumor, prove that this is wrong.’ The only way to do that is to get the text out,” said an exasperated Lankford, the lead GOP negotiator. Lankford added: “People can decide if they’re going to believe a lie or if they’re going to believe the truth.”

Interestingly, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who opposes Ukraine funding and has expressed skepticism about the border deal, said the breakdown of Republicans for and against the effort is “more even than I would have thought.”

Will Schumer put it on the floor anyway? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the national-security supplemental is too important to back away from, so it’s entirely possible that he puts the full package on the floor for a vote regardless of whether enough Republicans will back it.

Schumer has a political incentive to do so. He and President Joe Biden can use a failed vote to argue that Republicans blocked the very thing they said they wanted — enhanced border security measures — in an effort to help Trump in the presidential race.

“I didn’t want to enter these negotiations because I was very pessimistic about success. But we got a compromise,” Murphy said. “Why would we walk away from it after achieving that compromise?”

And Schumer’s most vulnerable members — think Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) — will be able to say they voted for the strictest border policy changes in a generation.

There are very few people who would doubt that this kind of message helps these Democrats in their campaigns. And Republicans who support the underlying effort suggested it would be hypocritical for them to back away now.

“Forty-nine Republicans made this a priority — that is, the negotiation of border security into a supplemental — before Republicans could get behind it,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) told us. “Political calculations for the 2024 election associated with this bill are not what people sent us to come here to do.”

What’s the backup plan? Well, there isn’t one.

Here’s the problem: The same Republicans who’ve been railing against the border package ahead of the release of legislative text are those who have sought to thwart any chance of passing additional aid for Ukraine. That’s been true from the start.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vaguely referenced the idea of splitting off the foreign-aid package during his weekly press conference while also making clear that he’s still hoping for the border component to be included. McConnell’s allies say they’ll need to explore other ways to get the foreign-aid package through.

“We’re going to have to find a path for the other measures if [border security] is not a part of it,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said. “Those who would oppose it and kill it are going to regret that day — people who will read about their opposition in the history books.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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