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What the Senate’s border stalemate means for Ukraine

The Senate’s “make-or-break” week on border security negotiations ended without a bipartisan agreement needed to unlock GOP votes for a massive Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid package.

At the same time, Democrats and Republicans alike — in addition to the White House — are heightening the urgency around reaching a deal, with Ukraine standing to lose the most if Congress doesn’t act before January.

“The runway is getting shorter,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby warned Thursday. “We think we’ve got until the end of the year before it gets really really hard to continue to support Ukraine.”

And soon enough, the stalemate will force Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer into a serious time crunch — if it hasn’t already.

The New York Democrat has said he’ll put President Joe Biden’s $105 billion-plus foreign aid request on the floor as soon as next week. This ups the pressure significantly on the bipartisan group negotiating border policy changes.

“We all know the border is a problem that we should deal with. But it’s not related to Ukraine, or to Israel, or to the Indo-Pacific,” Schumer said Thursday. “It’s been put in there by Republicans. And that means there’s an onus on them to make sure it’s bipartisan… or we won’t get anything done.”

To hear Democrats tell it, Republicans are demanding the inclusion of parts of H.R. 2, the House GOP’s border security bill. This is a non-starter for Democrats. And that’s making them more pessimistic about the prospects for a deal. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, said the end result may very well be that the two sides “won’t be able to come to a deal because Republicans are being unreasonable.”

So far, Republicans aren’t buckling. The bipartisan group has made progress on asylum reform. But at the end of another week of negotiations, GOP senators say any agreement must also crack down on the use of parole for migrants seeking asylum.

Even those Republicans who support Ukraine aid are vowing to filibuster the foreign-aid package absent these border reforms, in part, because they think it’ll force Democrats to take their proposals more seriously.

“It would be fantastic to put a supplemental [on the floor] without border security because it will fail,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), one of the lead GOP negotiators, told us. “The American people are getting fed up with their current posture. And that’s why I think we’ll ultimately get to a deal, and we’ll just have to deal with the dumpster fire in between.”

For now, Schumer is buying some time. He teed up nomination votes for early next week, which gives the negotiators breathing room. Schumer also knows that a failed vote on a Ukraine package would send a terrible signal to U.S. allies.

But Republicans believe Democrats will eventually bow to their border demands due to the urgency over sending more aid to Ukraine, so they’re comfortable dragging this out. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that it’ll all come together in the end — because failure isn’t an option.

“At the end of the day, it’s not a matter of whether. It’s a matter of when,” Tillis told us. “It could be sooner so [Ukraine] can continue to succeed… or it could be later where people will die, Russia will gain momentum, and then we’ll have to recover from that. That’s what these folks have to decide.”

— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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