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McConnell + Johnson

Why today’s W.H. meeting will be very rough

The Big Four are going to the White House today so President Joe Biden can pitch them on the importance of Ukraine aid and his national-security supplemental.

This may be a waste of time.

Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell enter this meeting with vastly different incentives and potentially irreconcilable disagreements on how to handle foreign aid and border security.

Republicans have linked Ukraine aid to a border bill. The border bill the Senate is working on is dead on arrival in the House. And GOP leaders in the Senate are airing their grievances with their House counterparts, revealing serious differences between the two camps on legislative strategy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Last week, McConnell urged Republican senators to unify and support the border deal that Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is negotiating with Democrats. There’s no better time than now to say yes to a deal, McConnell argued, since Democrats are willing to accept significant border restrictions in exchange for foreign aid. A border deal under a future Donald Trump presidency, he added, would be impossible.

Speaker Mike Johnson: The speaker, now in his 84th day leading the House, will never pass what the Senate produces. Sure, he is open to reviewing the details. But in House GOP leadership, there’s an overwhelming sense that whatever the Senate produces will not be anywhere near satisfactory to House Republicans.

True border security, Johnson told House Republicans on a Sunday call, would only come with Trump in the White House. Johnson’s position is that whatever Congress passes should be, at its core, similar to H.R. 2, the hardline border bill House Republicans passed last May. That won’t fly with a Democratic Senate and president.

Johnson has gone as far as to say he was tempted to try to negotiate a border package with the White House. The speaker’s world believes that House Republicans are closer to the median Republican voter than Senate Republicans are — whether that’s true or not is up for debate.

Senate Republican leadership backs McConnell: McConnell’s leadership team is publicly pushing back against Johnson.

Here’s what Senate Minority Whip John Thune told us:

Under a GOP majority and a Republican president, there wouldn’t be enough Democrats willing to give Republicans the necessary 60 votes for a border package, Thune argued. Similar efforts failed under Trump the last time, partially for that reason.

Today is different: Democrats are being forced to accept Republicans’ border policy ideas because the foreign aid package, a Biden administration priority, can’t pass without them.

“[We have] unique leverage because of the Ukraine funding,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told us. “Even when we had the majority in the House, the Senate and the White House, we still couldn’t get 60 votes for some of the things that Sen. Lankford is negotiating on now.”

To be sure, a border deal is still a ways off. Negotiators haven’t yet found a way to bridge their divisions over presidential parole authority, which Republicans want to restrict.

But GOP leaders on both sides of the Capitol can’t even sync up on their strategy and messaging. To hear Senate Republicans put it, you can’t say the border is in a state of emergency yet reject a bipartisan deal to address the crisis.

“We’ve got a giant problem with tens of thousands of people coming every day,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership. “We’ve got to work to find solutions. I wouldn’t shut the door on anything.”

“It makes no sense to me for us to do nothing when we might be able to make things better,” Cornyn said.

Relatedly: Trump’s Iowa victory isn’t pressuring more Senate GOP leaders to endorse him. So far it’s just Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

We all know how McConnell feels about Trump. Thune doubled down on his concerns about Trump’s ability to win a general election. Capito and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) indicated they’re in no rush to endorse.

Also: The Senate advanced the CR, which extends government funding until early March. The vote was 68-13. Senate leaders hope to pass it by Thursday, but they’ll need a time agreement to accomplish that.

Your headliners! Exclusive: Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) will headline the 78th annual Washington Press Club Foundation dinner this year. The dinner will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington.

McClain, in her second term in Congress, currently serves as House Republican Conference secretary. Smith was appointed to the Senate in 2017, previously serving as Minnesota’s lieutenant governor.

Proceeds from the dinner fund internships, educational and networking programs for women and minority journalists. Punchbowl News is a proud supporter of the dinner and will be hosting a VIP reception ahead of the main event.

— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and Heather Caygle

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