Senators work to revive border talks after foreign aid face plant
The United States’ commitment to Ukraine took a devastating blow on the Senate floor on Wednesday. Senators insist the saga isn’t over quite yet.
Both parties quickly moved to resuscitate border negotiations that could clear the way for delivering tens of billions of dollars to U.S. allies Ukraine and Israel after the GOP blocked President Joe Biden’s spending request on Wednesday afternoon. Republicans are expected to make a new offer to Democrats, which Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said could bring his party back to the negotiating table.
“This is not the end,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the top GOP negotiator. “Reset and say: ‘Let’s keep doing the work.’”
Still, there’s no clear pathway forward and Democrats and Republicans alike are throwing around ideas to unstick negotiations. The impasse boils down to Democrats being unwilling to enact the type of restrictive border policies that Republicans prefer and the GOP arguing the Democratic concessions so far — mostly on asylum — would barely decrease migrant flows.
Republicans have insisted they’ll only greenlight aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan if they get a deal to tighten border restrictions. There’s a long way to go on that front, but if there’s any silver lining from Wednesday’s face plant of a vote, it’s that senators haven’t given up yet.
What’s more, President Joe Biden cracked the door open to further Democratic concessions, declaring Wednesday he is “willing to make significant compromises” and praising the baritone, even-keeled Lankford as a “decent guy.” In a best-case scenario, those comments and prodding from leadership from both parties to finish the job could unstick stalled negotiations.
“I hope there’s an agreement to go back to the negotiating table and to put in place negotiators who are charged with getting an agreement. I don’t think we do have that now,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “The important thing is to have leadership provide a directive to get this done.”
Still, there’s certainly an enthusiasm gap between Lankford and Murphy, who along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) are now guiding the talks. Murphy said the forthcoming GOP offer would determine whether the talks resume since they fell apart nearly a week ago.
“If the room is just a forum to make unreasonable demands, then I’ve got other things I can do with my time,” Murphy said. “But if we’re actually going to sit down and negotiate, and Republicans are going to move and we’re going to move, then let’s sit down and talk.”
Lankford said processing asylum claims much more quickly and cutting down mass release of migrants into the United States are must-haves for Republicans. Asked why he was more optimistic than his Democratic partner, Lankford cracked: “Maybe he needs more ice cream. … He is committed to getting an outcome.”
Still, someone’s going to have to blink. Democrats are resisting full-scale border security policy changes demanded by Republicans that would reshape asylum, parole and detention law — and everyone’s got their own ideas.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who has been involved in the bipartisan negotiations, suggested that Biden and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should cut a deal. Republicans are pushing Biden himself to get more personally involved and some negotiators believe that the White House may be more willing to compromise than congressional Democratic leaders.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has in meetings endorsed some of the policies Republicans are pushing, while Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said clinching a deal will require a “higher level of engagement” with the White House.
“It’s going to require their involvement this time,” Bennet said of McConnell and Biden, longtime Senate colleagues. “I’ve had conversations this morning with Republicans, I’m having conversations this afternoon with Republicans. None of those discussions are going away.”
And Lankford acknowledged that he, Murphy and Sinema can only get things to a certain point, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, McConnell, Speaker Mike Johnson and Biden can finish the deal and sign off on it. Lankford said he’s working with both the White House staff and Johnson’s staff to try and find middle ground with Murphy and Sinema.
Still, it’s a tough moment to reset, given the raw emotions over the failed test vote on Wednesday set up by Schumer. The Senate is slated to go on recess for the holidays at the end of next week, though many senators said they hoped the Senate would try to finish the work before the end of the year.
There is a full week scheduled for recess before Christmas, and if negotiations keep plodding along, some senators think the chamber should use it.
“If I gotta be here on fucking Christmas Day I will, because Ukraine funding needs to be done. I’m willing to stay here 24/7 to get it done,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Jennifer Haberkorn and Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.
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