Senate to Resume Ukraine–Border Talks With Many Hurdles to Overcome

Senate Resumes Ukraine–Southern Border Talks With Many Hurdles to Overcome


Sen. Lindsey Graham said Republicans ‘are not gonna give in on some Band-Aid fix.’

The U.S. Senate is set to return to Capitol Hill Monday to resume negotiations on a package to fund Ukraine and secure the southern border, even with House lawmakers out of town.

But lawmakers have several hurdles to overcome before they can reach an agreement.

For months, Republicans and Democrats in the upper chamber have sought to work out a deal strengthening U.S. policy at the southern border in exchange for additional aid to foreign allies like Ukraine and Israel.

Negotiators on the deal include Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and both Senate party leaders. Recently, the negotiations have also included White House representatives and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The resumption of negotiations come as polls show dwindling support for President Joe Biden’s handling of the border, with one Fox News poll showing that as many as 66 percent of Americans disapprove.

Since President Biden took office, over 6 million illegal aliens have entered the country via the southern border, overburdening the resources of towns lying along the thousands of miles of border.

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Negotiators in the Senate have been tight-lipped on the details of the negotiations, but a few broad themes have emerged.

These include reports that negotiators are considering raising the standard of credible fear to seek asylum, which would greatly reduce asylum claims, and expanding detentions and deportations—potentially including the adoption of a Title 42-like policy that would give Border Patrol agents greater discretion in turning away illegal aliens at the border.

Senate Republicans say these kinds of concessions are the bare minimum, while House Republicans have sought a more comprehensive reform similar to that contained in the House-passed H.R. 2 immigration bill.

Quick Deal Unlikely: Graham

Earlier this month, negotiations on the Ukraine–southern border deal fell apart after lawmakers reached an impasse. Talks have resumed, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others say not to expect a quick turnaround.

Now, lawmakers are resuming talks after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) decided to postpone the holiday recess, initially set to begin Dec. 14, in order to buy more time to reach a deal.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), during appearances on Sunday shows, echoed the same ambiguous sentiment, saying that negotiators “are making progress.”

But some lawmakers, including Mr. Graham, have doubts about whether a deal can be reached by New Year’s Day amid squabbling not only between the two major parties, but also between both chambers of Congress and party infighting.

During an appearance on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Graham was asked about the prospects of reaching a deal before 2024.

“No, I think this will go into next year,” he replied, citing conversations with negotiators. “We’re not anywhere close to a deal. It’ll go into next year.”

 Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a Senate Judiciary hearing about sanctuary jurisdictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 22, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a Senate Judiciary hearing about sanctuary jurisdictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 22, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Graham added, “It’s important to get a good border deal.”

He said that Republicans “are not gonna give in on some Band-Aid fix.”

Many observers agree with Mr. Graham’s assessment that any quick deal is a long shot—particularly as the House has already left Washington for its holiday recess.

In an email to The Epoch Times, a staffer for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was noncommittal on whether the House would return if a deal was ironed out.

“We can’t speculate about hypotheticals,” he said. “The House has led and passed a bill on the border, H.R. 2, months ago, and aid to Israel weeks ago. The President and Senate have failed to act on the issue.”

It will be up to Mr. Johnson to call the House back should an agreement be reached.

The White House, for its part, has accused the House of being more interested in “going on vacation” than on addressing national security concerns.

House and Senate Split

Compounding the difficulties of a quick turnaround are disagreements between House and Senate lawmakers of both parties.

House Republicans have demanded a package much closer to H.R. 2 in exchange for Ukraine funding—a much higher bar than that currently being pursued by Senate negotiators.

Members of both parties, meanwhile, are frustrated by the sense that they’ve been left out of the talks.

Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-Texas) during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” called the proposals coming from the Senate—including raising the credible fear standard and increasing deportations—”a good start.”

But he said more would be necessary to get the package to the required 218 votes in the lower chamber, including designating Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations and “holding these smugglers accountable that cause damage and kill Americans.”

Mr. Gonzalez added that negotiations can’t end in the Senate.

“The deal between the Senate and the White House is going to be much different than the House,” he said.

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) echoed Mr. Gonzalez’s comments.

“The House has to be at the negotiating table,” Mr. Khanna said. “We want a safe border. We want an orderly and humane process. But … the negotiation hasn’t involved the relevant people.”

This sentiment isn’t reserved to House lawmakers.

It was echoed by Mr. Cornyn, who said on “Fox News Sunday,” “Senator Schumer thinks there’s going to be some deal cut behind closed doors, and then jam it through the Senate and then jam the House. That’s not going to happen.”

 Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in Washington on Dec. 5, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in Washington on Dec. 5, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“We do need to be aware of the fact that this is not just an exercise in the Senate. It’s not just Senate and the president agreeing to something,” he added. “It’s something that can actually pass the House and be signed into law. So this is a very delicate and difficult negotiation. But we’re not going to let this opportunity pass without doing everything we can to secure the border.”

Additionally, splits within the House will make passing any comprehensive measure difficult.

To even come to the floor, the Senate deal will need Mr. Johnson’s approval.

Many House Republicans have indicated that they’re unilaterally opposed to further Ukraine funding—even if paired with a border deal they’d otherwise like.

House Democrats, meanwhile, will likely need to agree to the deal, which will be deeply unpopular with the Democratic base, in order to pass any proposed package.

Progressives Frustrated

Adding to President Biden’s troubles, his work on the deal with Senate Republicans has alienated several progressives, who feel the president is betraying them through the negotiations.

Progressives have argued that reports about the deal suggest that it would effectively ban asylum.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that Democrats agreeing to a deal with Republicans would be tantamount to “enabling” what he called “right-wing racism.”

“I want to speak quickly to the Democrats in the Senate and others who are considering supporting this proposal,” Mr. Castro said in comments to reporters on the steps of the House. “If you do so, you will be surrendering to right-wing racism. And more than that, you will be enabling it.”

Rep. Pramilla Jayapal (D-Wash.) echoed the sentiment.

“Senate Democrats and the White House must not agree to these extreme demands,” she said.

 Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during a television interview at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 31, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during a television interview at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 31, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Ms. Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has also said, “It is imperative that my Senate colleagues and the White House understand what is on the table are policies so extreme that, if enacted, it would literally be the most exclusionary and restrictive immigration legislation since the racial quota laws of the 1920s. Literally turning the clock back 100 years.”

Even some non-progressive Democrats, including Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have warned against the proposals.

“Please don’t go down this road, don’t cave to the extreme Republican immigration proposals,” Mr. Menendez said. “If you do so, you cement your legacy as the asylum denier in chief. That’s not something we want to see.”

In any case, the Senate has worked over the weekend to continue moving toward a deal.

Still, amid disagreement among members of both parties, between both parties, and between chambers, lawmakers have a lot of work ahead before they can advance any measure.

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