Senate’s border deal teeters on brink of collapse

The Senate’s bipartisan border and foreign aid deal is already close to failure, with Republicans preparing to block debate on the bill this week — and potentially for longer than that.

The President Joe Biden-backed agreement is getting pummeled from the left and right, but it’s internal GOP angst that’s fueling the likelihood of a filibuster during an expected test vote on Wednesday. After Senate Republicans met for 90 minutes on Monday night to discuss the border deal that a trio of senators forged over the past four months, few of them emerged willing to say they would vote to advance the $118 billion package.

Several members of GOP leadership came out against the legislation in the past 24 hours, further boxing in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, who supports the agreement linking border policy changes with aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, called Monday’s meeting an “interesting discussion.”

Inside the room, McConnell told Republicans that if they didn’t like the direction that the bill is going, they should vote against moving forward this week, according to two people briefed on the meeting who were granted anonymity to speak candidly.

According to two attendees, McConnell did not forcefully whip for or against the bill. He instead discussed the specific policies and politics of the legislation, which is opposed by Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Donald Trump.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who struck the deal, even suggested he might vote against moving forward if his colleagues weren’t ready to move.“That’s not voting against the bill,” Lankford said of voting to filibuster the bill from coming to the floor. “So that’s not the final passage. That’s the beginning point.”

It’s a stunning turnabout from just a few months ago, when Republicans demanded border security policy changes to pair with $60 billion in Ukraine aid requested by Biden. Now Republican support for the legislation is vanishingly hard to find, with just a handful of GOP senators in support. Even moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was unsure if she would vote to advance the bill.

Lankford added that he’s not sure how much time members will actually want to evaluate the proposal — if that timeline goes beyond Wednesday. Many Senate Republicans want an open amendment process that could drag out debate indefinitely, if leadership allows it.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), another member of leadership, said “yes” the vote would fail on Wednesday. And Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who worked closely with negotiators, said there’s “very real concern” that there isn’t enough time to fully discuss it by Wednesday’s scheduled vote, deeming it “too early” for most Senate Republicans.

Several Democrats have warned they would defect as well.

“I don’t see this moving forward. Even before the speaker spoke [against it], I couldn’t see the votes,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who opposes the legislation and is on the leadership team. “The next step is to look at how we fund Israel.”

After weeks of stops and starts, Lankford, Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) unveiled the legislation on Sunday night, hoping that the legislative text would help beat back conservative attacks on the legislation.

That hasn’t happened, much to the frustration of Lankford’s allies. Republicans now have a fusillade of complaints about the bill, ranging from how its border shutdown authority would work to how long they have to consider it.

“I mean, three minutes after the text was released, people were saying it’s a crap bill,” said Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.). “There’s been people saying that [Lankford] is immoral. If that guy’s immoral, I’m literally swimming in flames.”

There were many absences during Monday’s meeting, so Republicans will hold another party huddle on Tuesday afternoon to further hash out their position. Many now want guarantees of amendment votes from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who set the Wednesday vote in motion on Monday evening.

Those process concerns cloak the real reasons behind many Republicans’ resistance to moving forward: Some don’t want to fund Ukraine, some don’t see the border provisions as strict enough and others don’t want to give Biden a policy win that helps shore up his political standing on the immigration issue.

Still others are unsure about advancing a bill the House GOP says it won’t even take up.

“Hanging over this bill like a brooding omnipresence in the sky is the position of Majority Leader Scalise and Speaker Johnson that the bill will never even be considered by the House. And that’s a factor that’s got to be taken into consideration,” said an undecided Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).