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Senate Republicans threaten to block the border security bill they negotiated

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US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at the US Capitol as Congress has less than two weeks to negotiate a deal to avoid the start of a partial shutdown government, at the Capitol in Washington, USA, on January 8, 2024.

Julia Nikhinson | Reuters

In a surprising turn of events, Senate Republicans threatened Monday to block a major bipartisan package of asylum and border security restrictions, just a day after their chief negotiator signed it into law.

Republican senators left a special closed-door late-night meeting predicting their party would not provide enough votes to advance the package on Wednesday, saying senators agreed they need more time to discuss changes to the bill in the form of amendments. .

“I would anticipate that on Wednesday the closure vote will not pass,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the lead Republican negotiator in the border talks, told reporters after the meeting. “People say, ‘Hey, I need a lot more time to get through this.'”

Republican unease could be devastating for the package, which House Republican leaders have already said is “dead on arrival” on the House floor. Advocates hoped that strong bipartisan support in the Senate could force the House to act.

The change comes as Donald Trump demands that Republicans scuttle the deal they reached with Democrats and now has the backing of President Joe Biden, as the likely 2024 GOP nominee seeks to use immigration as a political weapon in the fall elections. . Trump criticized the bill on social media, calling it “nothing more than a highly sophisticated trap to get Republicans to take the blame for what radical left Democrats have done to our border, just in time for our next election.” important in history.

Senate Minority Leader John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that Republicans are concerned that “there hasn’t been adequate time” to process the bill yet. “I think it’s fair to say that everyone thinks that voting on Wednesday is voting too early,” he said.

The 370-page bill, finalized and released Sunday, was crafted with input from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who advocated for it on the Senate floor Monday, warning of crises in the southern border and internationally. In addition to the new border provisions, the package includes aid money for Ukraine and Israel. “The time has come for Congress to take action on supplemental national security legislation that finally meets those challenges head-on,” he said.

But a few hours later, as Senate Republicans met behind closed doors and opposition continued to grow, McConnell – one of the staunchest Republican defenders of aid to Ukraine in Congress – gave his members the green light to oppose the vote. Wednesday’s procedure. McConnell told Republicans that if they have reason to vote against the bill, they could do so, given that talks about amendments and how to proceed are ongoing, a source familiar with the meeting said.

Democrats were stunned to see Republicans abandon the pact.

“Just stunned. I’ve never seen anything like it.” saying Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, a member of Democratic leadership. “They literally demanded a specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the lead Democratic negotiator, called the GOP’s nervousness over its own deal “shameful.”

“You told us you wanted a bipartisan border solution. You named the Republican negotiator. WE HAVE AN AGREEMENT,” he said. wrote in X. “Stop the drama: do you want to fix the border or do you want to keep it chaotic to help Trump? Just decide, please.”

The vote currently scheduled for Wednesday is a procedural vote to move toward debate on the legislation. That vote, called a closure motion, needs 60 votes to pass. If it fails, the bill will be frozen indefinitely until 60 senators agree to restart consideration on the floor.

Senate Republicans left Monday’s meeting calling the discussion “solid”; At one point, reporters could hear Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speak loudly in the room, to which Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, could be heard saying, “Time out!” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, an outspoken opponent of the bill, left the meeting saying the room was “not very optimistic” about the immigration package.

“It was a debate about provisions, substance and process,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said after the meeting. “Even if I understood the bill completely and we went through it line by line, I would not vote to close it out of respect for my colleagues because I think many of them are not as advanced as we are.” “.

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Within minutes of the bill’s release on Sunday, conservative senators and House Republicans began criticizing it. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, and his leadership team issued a joint statement pronouncing her “DEAD” (in all caps) on the House floor.

Lankford was taken aback by the tenor of the Republican opposition.

“Frankly, I was surprised by some people who said, ‘It’s going to take me days and weeks to read the bill,’ but within minutes they tweeted their opposition,” he said in a previous interview. Monday.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., an outspoken McConnell critic who unsuccessfully challenged him for the leadership post 15 months ago, wrote in X: “Time and time again, Senate Republican leadership has pushed bad bills through without questions or input from members. Today, we said enough is enough.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a co-author of the package, told reporters Monday that there is still “a lot of misinformation about the legislation” and she worries that election-year politics are fueling some of the opposition. .

“We raised the asylum standard. We increased detention beds so that incoming and outgoing single adults are detained while they get their asylum interview, and then removed from the country if they cannot provide evidence at the highest level of Family Units : we cannot stop them because Flowers – are under supervision and get their interview within 90 days. “If they cannot demonstrate the highest standard with all three bans in those 90 days, they will be quickly removed from the country.”

Lankford, discussing whether this experience makes him hesitant to enter into another negotiation in the future, said: “I need a nap. So, for me, I’m not interested in jumping into the next big thing.”

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