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Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell

Senate moves forward on supplemental as obstacles mount

Senate leaders say they’re charging ahead with legislation to fund key national-security priorities, even as divisions between — and within — the parties emerge.

Democratic leaders on Tuesday shut down the notion of using the bill to enact an overhaul of border-related policies, while Republicans insist that’s the only way to truly address the crisis. Meanwhile, internal GOP strife over linking aid for Israel and Ukraine is growing.

Senate Republicans hosted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at their lunch on Tuesday as GOP leaders look to build support for addressing the nation’s biggest foreign-policy challenges in one bill.

According to attendees, Rice encouraged GOP senators to not allow the United States to “retreat” from global conflicts like Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Her message was well-received by much of the GOP conference, but conservatives who oppose new Ukraine aid were unmoved.

“There’s a lot of building discontent” within the conference, said one GOP senator granted anonymity to candidly assess the meeting.

Some Republicans urged caution about the hand-wringing over Biden’s funding request, noting that this is usually the time when everyone lays down their markers ahead of negotiations.

“Let’s get down to very specific provisions and then let’s talk. Because before that, everybody’s reacting to hypotheticals,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told us. “It’s premature.”

Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), the Senate’s House whisperer, said he sees the criticisms as simply an effort to “make the bill better.”

“There may be a few holdouts, but I think most of us are trying to make it better,” Mullin said.

The goal is for the Senate to write its own bipartisan bill based on the White House’s funding request, which is merely a list of recommendations. While Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and many top Republicans agree with the idea of combining these into one funding package, Senate negotiators could simply conclude that there isn’t enough bipartisan support for certain elements of the proposal.

The border security portion is shaping up to be difficult, if not impossible, to craft. Democrats are insisting that anything beyond a straight funding patch is a non-starter. And Republicans want policy changes, arguing the current approach essentially asks them to provide more funding for border policies they oppose.

“Biden’s goal is to make it more efficient to bring more people illegally and place them around the country,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told us. “If that’s the conclusion, we have to make sure that that’s not a bill that will pass.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that neither side should seek partisan priorities because it would imperil the entire package. But McConnell, who has hammered the Biden administration for its handling of the border, is backing up his conference for now.

“There’s a lot of passion among our members about having a credible border security provision in there, and we’re going to make other changes as well,” McConnell said.

There’s also discussion of forcing into the package a provision that would freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets that were unlocked as part of a recent prisoner-swap agreement. The Biden administration has paused the disbursement of those funds in the wake of Hamas’ terror attacks in Israel, but Republicans and some Democrats want to codify that freeze into law.

And there are some early signs that Schumer could be amenable to this. When asked about the Biden administration’s initial approach to Iran — which included trying to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal — Schumer said the agreement “didn’t have enough to deter Iran from funding terrorism around the globe, and I still believe that.”

Of course, Schumer voted against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But in this context, he’s suggesting that the rapprochement strategy the administration initially pursued was a flawed one because it didn’t prevent Iran’s financing of terror groups like Hamas.

— Andrew Desiderio

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