Call speaker’s bluff, approve Senate border deal
Republican Senate leadership linked continued support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian expansionism with also gaining a deal to better control the southern U.S. border. Republicans and Democrats now have a deal. The question is whether Republicans will walk away from it and place election-year politics above national security.
It took four months of negotiations to reach a Senate compromise. Among the negotiators was Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat. It solidifies his position among a shrinking pool of moderates willing to find actual solutions to policy challenges. Murphy has been a long and strong supporter of Ukraine and its efforts to retain independence. And sustaining Ukraine resistance is a big part of this deal.
The negotiations also included Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., among his caucus’s most conservative members. When Lankford signs off on a deal you know Republicans got much of what they wanted. And there is a reason. The Democrats are vulnerable on the issue. While the economy continues to outperform expectations and inflation has slowed considerably, dysfunction at the border remains a major political liability for President Joe Biden as he seeks a second term. It is contributing to his poor approval ratings.
Biden also recognizes the dire need to sustain support for Ukraine. If that support falters because of political division in this country, Russian leader Vladimir Putin will conclude his strategy of waiting out the United States has worked. And if an outgunned Ukraine falls, it will feed Putin’s dream of rebuilding the old Soviet bloc. The next country on Putin’s menu could well be a NATO member and that would trigger a regional war, and potentially a global one.
To continue backing Ukraine and to show action on the border problem, Biden and the Democrats were willing to give — a lot — to reach this deal.
The bill would raise the bar to claim asylum. It would expand detention capacity and enforcement. The border would close to new entrants if more than an average of 5,000 migrants per day try to gain access unlawfully in a week, or more than 8,500 attempt to cross in a day.
“If this law were already in effect, the border would have been closed every single day this year,” said Senator Kyrsten Sinema, I, Ariz., who was among the negotiators.
The border security part of the deal would provide $20.2 billion to expand both the number of border security agents and the staff necessary to process asylum requests. It would expand detention beds and increase enforcement efforts targeting fentanyl and other illegal drugs.
Those streaming from dysfunctional Central and South American countries are desperate. The ranks of the human smugglers who exploit that desperation for profit are growing. The threat of foreign actors capitalizing on the chaos to do the United States harm is genuine. Action is necessary.
The legislation includes $60.1 billion for Ukraine aid. But much of that would go to provide munitions manufactured by U.S. workers. There is $14 billion in military assistance for Israel and $10 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has said the bill is “dead on arrival” in his chamber even if it passes the Senate. His motivation is obvious. He does not want a bill that would improve border security. He wants continued disorder at the border that President Trump and other Republicans can use as an issue against Biden and the Democrats. His “dead on arrival” warning is aimed at wavering Republican senators. Don’t bother sticking your political necks out, Johnson is signaling, because this legislation is going nowhere.
It does not go far enough, say Republican critics. They want more border wall. They want to largely end policies allowing migrants to live and work in the United States while awaiting hearings. Republicans can argue for those policies in the election and, if they win, put them into law. Not getting everything Republicans wanted is not a valid reason to reject much of what they wanted.
The Senate should call Johnson’s bluff and pass the bill with the necessary 60 votes, meaning bipartisan support. Send it to the House where Johnson will face pressure from many congresspeople in his own caucus to allow a vote, folks who do want improved border security and who support Ukraine. Don’t let this opportunity pass.
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