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September 29, 2023

GOP border security talks hang over Senate CR prospects

US-MEXICO-BORDER

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is plowing full-steam ahead on a bipartisan bill that funds the government for 47 days with billions of dollars in new cash for Ukraine and disaster relief.

But the measure’s fate could come down to whether the Senate can clinch a deal on a border security amendment being crafted by Republicans and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

Republicans have yet to signal whether they’ll give Democrats the 60 votes necessary to advance the continuing resolution absent a deal on a border-related amendment. We expect they will, but it’s worth watching.

Senators involved in the talks emphasized they’re still in the early stages of trying to craft a proposal. Crucially, they aren’t yet sure what could pass the Senate — and at what threshold — while also satisfying conservatives in the House.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to grow the vote to avoid a shutdown, but also to have real teeth in border and immigration reform that is credible and could potentially get done,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s involved in the talks around a border-security amendment.

But no Democrats are involved in those negotiations, and the group is still trying to enact border policy changes in a way that wouldn’t require 60 votes — a difficult task. If successful, Republicans see the effort as a big positive.

“If we add border [provisions], the prospects for passage both in the Senate and the House improve,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, who’s leading the talks, told us. “Everybody knows we’re up against a deadline, and I think that’s intensifying an effort to try and come together behind a proposal.”

Importantly, the effort has Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s blessing, though he’s not directly involved. They’re also talking with their House GOP counterparts, according to Thune, but he wouldn’t go into more detail.

GOP senators tell us they’re not looking to just throw money at DHS and ICE. They want policy changes, too. The challenge is that policy changes would require 60 votes — a tough hurdle on this issue in particular — whereas funding additions would only require a simple majority. It could also end up helping red-state Democrats in the end.

“A 60-vote threshold gives Democrats who are in-cycle in 2024 a chance to vote yes, knowing that this won’t become law, and then they can claim they’ve done something about the border which they have not,” Cornyn lamented.

Sources involved in the talks told us Thursday night that they’re exploring parliamentary maneuvers to implement policy changes without requiring 60 votes.

But that might not even matter. Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans aren’t prepared to accept new Ukraine funding as outlined in the Senate bill, and some House conservatives are already dismissing the Senate’s border efforts as weak. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who’s aligned with conservative hardliners in the House, told us it’s like “putting lipstick on a pig.”

“I admire what my colleagues are trying to do in ensuring that conservatives get something meaningful out of this CR. But we need to accept reality,” Vance said. “A clean CR with Ukraine funding is DOA in the House, whatever else you attach to it.”

For now, Senate leaders are adamant that the $6 billion in new Ukraine funding will remain in the bill. That’s causing Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to drag out the process by withholding his consent for an agreement to speed up consideration of the CR.

Absent a time agreement, it would take the Senate until Monday to pass the CR — more than a day after the government shuts down.

— Andrew Desiderio

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Brilliant new ideas can come from everywhere. That’s why we invest heavily in STEM education, helping build a career-ready, diverse talent pipeline to tackle tomorrow’s most complex challenges. Learn more at RTX.com

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