White House and Senate negotiators race to reach a border deal, with Ukraine aid on the line

Ukrainian servicemen of the 92nd Ivan Sirko Separate Assault Brigade ride in a T-64 tank near the town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 13, 2023. REUTERS/Inna Varenytsia

Ukrainian ride in a T-64 tank near the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on December 13, 2023.Inna Varenytsia/ReutersCNN — 

Democrats and Republicans will not be able to strike a deal on US southern border policy changes this year, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday, following weeks of negotiations over tying tighter immigration restrictions to supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Republicans, Graham said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “feel that we’re being jammed. We’re not anywhere close to a deal. It’ll go into next year.”

Democrats and Republicans are urgently trying to reach an agreement on border policy changes before senators leave town for the holidays, but several congressional aides are skeptical a deal can be reached as sizable differences remain.

Ukrainian servicemen rest at their positions after a fight, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in May.

Western officials warn Ukraine is ‘certain to fail’ against Russia if US doesn’t provide more aid

President Joe Biden has repeatedly called on Congress to pass his national security supplemental funding request, which includes billions for Ukraine, Israel and border security, among other priorities. He’s warned that the funds are imperative for Ukraine, which the US has pledged to support in defending against Russia, and more broadly, for US national security.

But still, the package – introduced in October – remains stalled.

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For weeks, negotiators on both sides of the aisles have wrestled over tying tighter immigration restrictions to supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel. Republicans insist there needs to be a change on the US southern border, where migrant surges have strained federal resources, to move forward with funding for Ukraine.

“This is a catastrophe, and it’s a result of the Biden open border policies,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to use this opportunity to change that.”

In a sign of the challenges negotiators face in trying to get an immigration deal that can pass the Senate this week, 15 GOP senators, including Graham, are demanding a special conference meeting in January to discuss the negotiations. In a letter sent Sunday to Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chair of the Senate Republican Conference, the senators criticized the “rushed and secret” talks.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the top Republican at the negotiation table for border talks, said he thinks meeting to discuss the legislation when the House returns the week of January 8 is a “realistic timeline.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has insisted the chamber will hold a vote on the legislation this week – but Lankford noted senators still do not have legislative text.

“That’s up to Leader Schumer, but we don’t have text. So, there’s no text to be able to have a vote on,” he said, adding that senators will meet again Monday.

Senate negotiators Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, and Chris Murphy, a a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters Sunday night after spending the day in talks that they continue to make progress, but they would not outline a timeline for a deal and said meetings will continue Monday.

“We’re making progress and it’s good,” Sinema said.

If the Senate leaves town for the holidays without reaching a deal, the White House will have to make tough choices about supplying allies such as Ukraine at the potential expense of US military readiness. The supplemental request also includes $14 billion for border security.

But potential changes to tighten asylum, among other stricter immigration measures, are a hard sell with Democrats, who are concerned the White House is embracing Trump-era immigration policies.

Over the weekend, senior White House officials, including White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, called Republican and Democratic lawmakers to try to reach a consensus on border policy changes, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was on Capitol Hill on Sunday to meet with Senate negotiators.

On Saturday, Zients held a call with some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has raised alarm over the direction of border talks, one of the sources said.

The other source said key sticking points remain as negotiators try to reach an agreement. They include metrics to trigger the expulsion of migrants at the US-Mexico border, effectively barring migrants from seeking asylum at the border; curbing the use of parole, which allows migrants to temporarily live in the US on a case-by-case basis; and mandatory detention, the source said. https://madusekali.com Other proposals include raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers and expanding the use of a fast-track deportation procedure.

The source said Republicans have also showed renewed interest in a safe-third country agreement, which would bar migrants from seeking asylum in the US if they passed through other countries before arriving at the US border.

The Union Pacific International Railroad Bridge is seen behind concertina wire, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

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For Biden, the politics of the moment are complicated. While losing support from the Democratic base could cost him at the polls next November, the perception of doing nothing on border security could have broad implications as well.

Migrant apprehensions on the US-Mexico border have reached record highs over the course of Biden’s presidency. While Biden officials have stressed that the arrests reflect record migration in the Western Hemisphere, the issue is certain to be a liability in the 2024 presidential election as Republicans point the finger at the president’s immigration policies.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Morgan Rimmer and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

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