WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a torrent of criticism from conservatives, Senate Republicans on Monday resisted advancing on a bipartisan proposal intended to clamp down on illegal border crossings, signaling a likely defeat in Congress.
In a dramatic turnaround, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recommended to Republican senators, in a closed-door meeting, that they vote against the first procedural vote Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the meeting who were not authorized to talk publicly about it and spoke anonymously.
House Speaker Mike Johnson has already called the proposal “dead on arrival” if it passes the Senate.
Johnson, along with the rest of the House’s top GOP leaders, said in a joint statement Monday they were opposed to the legislation because “it fails in every policy area needed to secure our border and would actually incentivize more illegal immigration.”
But the National Border Patrol Council — the union that represents Border Patrol agents — endorsed the proposal Monday and said it would drop illegal border crossings nationwide.
The group in 2020 endorsed Trump and has been highly critical of Biden’s border policies.
Under the proposal, migrants, who seek asylum, would face a tougher and faster process to having their claim evaluated. The standard in initial interviews would be raised, and many would receive those interviews within days of arriving at the border. Final decisions on their asylum claims would happen within months, rather than the often years-long wait that happens now.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, said over the weekend that the bill also provides border-wall money, expands deportation flights and increases the number of border officers.
The House Republican leaders, however, said, “Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time.”
The news from the Senate came just hours after McConnell urged colleagues on the Senate floor that “it’s now time for Congress to take action.” But the Republican has struggled to marshal his conference to support the $118 billion package, that also includes billions for Ukraine, Israel and elsewhere.
Senate negotiators on Sunday night released the text of the bill, hoping that the details would win over skeptics. The carefully negotiated deal represented a rightward shift in Senate negotiations over border measures, yet the backlash was still intense from conservatives. They savaged the border policy proposal as insufficient, with former President Donald Trump leading the charge.
“This is a gift to the Democrats,” Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, said Monday on “The Dan Bongino Show.” “And this sort of is a shifting of the worst border in history onto the shoulders of Republicans They want this for the presidential election so they can now blame the Republicans for the worst border in history.”
As they returned to the Capitol Monday, many Senate Republicans — even those who have expressed support for Ukraine aid and the contours of the border policy changes — raised doubts they would support advancing the package. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has planned to hold a key test vote Wednesday.
“The actions here in the next few days are an inflection point in history,” the New York Democrat said in a floor speech. “The security of our nation and of the world hangs in the balance.”
Schumer worked closely with McConnell on the border security package after the Republican leader had insisted on the pairing as a way to win support for Ukraine aid. The Democratic leader urged his colleagues across the aisle to “tune out the political noise” and vote yes.
“For years, years our Republican colleagues have demanded we fix the border. And all along they said it should be done through legislation. Only recently did they change that when it looks like we might actually produce legislation,” Schumer said.
But Republicans expressed deep divisions on the bill. During a 90-minute, closed-door meeting Monday evening, their discussion turned to shouting.
GOP senators emerged saying they were not likely to vote to move forward during the Wednesday test vote and wanted to debate changes to the bill — a demand that would further delay any definitive action on the legislation.
“I think the Wednesday vote is going to be, for most of our members, too early,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Republican leader.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, predicted that the Wednesday tally would fall short of the 60 votes needed. After exiting an earlier meeting with other GOP leaders, he told reporters, “I think the proposal is dead.”
Both McConnell and Schumer have emphasized for months the urgency of approving tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine’s fight, saying that the U.S.’s ability to buttress democracies around the world was at stake. Yet with the funding stuck in Congress, the Defense Department has halted shipments of ammunition and missiles to Kyiv.
President Joe Biden urged the Republican House Speaker Johnson to “pay attention to what the Senate’s doing.”
Biden, speaking to reporters at a Las Vegas meeting with members of a culinary union, also noted that Congress has not approved his funding requests for more Border Patrol agents and immigration judges to handle the number of migrants. “We need help,” he said. “Why won’t they give me the help?”
The White House has also said Biden would veto a House bill that would only send military aid to Israel, criticizing it as a “cynical political maneuver” that excludes funding for Ukraine, the border and other national security needs.
Several Democrats have also come out against the bill and taken issue with the restrictions on asylum seekers. Immigration advocates have said the bill would cut off important due process rights for people who have fled to the U.S. to escape often harrowing violence.
Democrats, however, have largely warmed to the idea of tougher border measures.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator for the bill, said, “I think this country is crying out for the parties to stop fighting over immigration and just get something done that’s going to better control the border and fix our broken immigration system.”