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United States Senator Chris Murphy

Senate border talks squeeze both parties

Senate Republicans’ demand for border policy changes as part of any Ukraine aid package is showing some early progress, with Democrats now at the negotiating table.

But there are real doubts — including from the negotiating group’s own members — that they can come together on a border and immigration policy, an issue that Congress has consistently failed to address over the last decade.

“It’s not a high likelihood of success,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who’s part of the group, said bluntly. “Obviously we’ve got to move fast, but my hope is we can get there, even if I’m sober about our chances.”

The spotlight will soon shift to Democrats, who vehemently oppose the idea of conditioning Ukraine aid on a GOP-approved border proposal. But Democrats were forced to negotiate after GOP leaders said Ukraine aid won’t pass without addressing the border.

The group — which includes Murphy and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who have a solid track record on bipartisan dealmaking — is eyeing a targeted approach that focuses on areas of agreement.

At the same time, progressives oppose tightening immigration policies without addressing the status of undocumented immigrants. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), for example, told us that protections for DREAMers are “long overdue.”

“Our party doesn’t view the issue of immigration just as a question of what’s happening at the border,” Murphy noted.

Yet this risks turning the ongoing negotiations into a debate over comprehensive immigration reform, which simply cannot pass in this Congress.

Murphy conceded that the border provisions are “going to have to move toward some Republican priorities” — an acknowledgment of Republicans’ leverage here.

Even if the bipartisan Senate group strikes a deal, Murphy will need to sell it to a skeptical crowd. Democrats will have to consider whether it’s an acceptable cost for getting more Ukraine aid.

Democrats know that abandoning Ukraine wouldn’t only be a major embarrassment for President Joe Biden, but also risks U.S. credibility on the world stage. Hence their willingness, even begrudgingly, to engage with Republicans here. Murphy is among those seeking to heighten the urgency over getting a robust Ukraine bill to Biden’s desk.

Many top Republicans agree. But as we’ve noted before, GOP leaders decided they needed to pair Ukraine with border-security provisions in order to sell it to the House — not to mention their own base.

If senators can’t come to an agreement on border policy changes, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could try to attach the foreign-aid package — with scaled-back border security measures — to the stopgap funding bill and dare Republicans to reject it.

This would put a lot of pressure on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular, given his long-standing support for Ukraine and the growing sentiment that Congress doesn’t have many opportunities left to approve more aid to the embattled country.

For now, Republicans aren’t expressing concerns — at least publicly — that their decision to tie Ukraine aid to border reform could tank both issues. And Tillis told us he doesn’t view the Nov. 17 government funding deadline as the target date for the bipartisan border group.

“The Ukraine language and the other language in the supplemental is so dependent on getting the border provisions right,” Tillis said. “And the border provisions are not anywhere near a consensus right now. It’s unlikely they will be in the next eight days.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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