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Lankford + Murphy

A big week for border talks

The House is out of session this week, the Senate is in. This will be a huge week for senators and the White House on border security, immigration, Ukraine and Israel. So let’s get into it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has queued up several nomination votes heading into the week, but that’s just the lead-in for the complex and politically loaded border security and immigration negotiations led by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

There’s no deal yet between Lankford and Murphy. There’s no guarantee that there will be an agreement or that the Senate will vote this week on any such deal. That’s despite the optimistic prediction from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell the other day that something could emerge this week.

However, if there is an agreement between Lankford and Murphy — which would first require sign-off by Schumer, McConnell and the White House, of course — we’d expect the Senate to stay in session for as long as it takes to complete action on the measure. Meaning through the weekend or whatever it takes for a final vote. Allowing senators to go home could give opponents a chance to derail the proposal.

With the New Hampshire presidential primary on Tuesday, the pressure is growing to find something to pass before former President Donald Trump decides it’s in his best interest to sink a potential agreement. Speaker Mike Johnson also is expected to tear apart any Senate deal if he believes that boosts House Republicans.

There was a flurry of negotiations over the weekend, according to senators and leadership aides. Schumer spoke on multiple occasions with Murphy, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and other key players in the negotiations. Republicans had a similar round-robin of internal calls, we’re told.

Again, if there is an agreement, don’t expect to see any text until Tuesday at the earliest, we’re told. It could be later.

And even if Lankford and Murphy reach a consensus on changes to parole and asylum policy, they still have to figure out the money side of the equation. What new resources would be needed to implement key policy changes and how these funds would be distributed is a highly sensitive issue.

Ukraine and Israel: Remember, these border security talks are designed in part to round up GOP support for President Joe Biden’s massive supplemental request for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region. Especially Ukraine. Biden sought more than $60 billion in new aid for Ukraine last fall, which Congress didn’t act on. Now there’s no more U.S. aid in the pipeline even as the war with Russia grinds on.

There’s still majority support in Congress for Ukraine funding thanks to Democrats and GOP hawks, but it’s unclear if a majority of House or Senate Republicans would back it.

So even with a border security plus immigration deal in hand, there’s no way lawmakers will greenlight Biden’s $60 billion request. The White House will have to narrow it to just military aid; financial or economic support for the Ukranians — as vital as it may be — won’t have any chance of passing.

There’s a special Senate GOP Conference meeting on Wednesday regarding Ukraine. There’s been enormous discussion of Ukraine among Senate Republicans for months, and opposition is growing among rank-and-file GOP senators over approving more support for the embattled U.S. ally. However, McConnell remains the most vocal Ukraine backer on Capitol Hill, and there is still significant Republican backing.

Israel funding is another complication. The House passed a $14 billion Israel aid bill shortly after the Oct. 7 attack, yet that didn’t go anywhere in the Senate because Johnson tied it to IRS spending cuts.

Now some Senate Democrats, appalled at the stunning number of Palestinian civilian deaths during Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza, want to attach conditions to any new U.S. aid for Israel. But this won’t fly with Senate Republicans, so we’ll have to see how it plays out for Biden and Schumer.

Let’s sum all this up — even if there is a Lankford-Murphy deal on the border, there’s a lot more work to be done to turn this into a legislative package that can be approved by the Senate. And even if the Senate ultimately passes something, that doesn’t mean the House will, at least not in the same form. Trump’s growing momentum in the GOP presidential contest complicates everything, and Johnson has problems with hardline conservatives following last week’s CR vote. This is a very fluid situation, to say the least.

One more thing: House and Senate appropriators still haven’t reached a deal on spending levels for all 12 annual bills, despite passage of last week’s stopgap funding package that averts any shutdown until early March. Party leaders hope a deal on this is also possible this week, but there’s no certainty on this front either.

Lots of high hopes for the Senate this week but nothing is guaranteed. Because 2024!

— John Bresnahan

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