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Border and Ukraine aid bill in jeopardy in Senate due to staunch Republican opposition

President Joe Biden blames Donald Trump for the lawmakers’ resistance and calls on Congress to pass the legislation as soon as possible

Ted Cruz
Republican Senator Ted Cruz in an appearance on Capitol Hill in Washington against the immigration bill and aid to Ukraine and Israel.JIM LO SCALZO (EFE)

The bill that applies new and tougher immigration controls and also authorizes new aid to Ukraine and Israel took four months to reach apparent consensus in the U.S. Senate, but only hours to be on the verge of failure. The clear lack of support among Republicans — even with those who helped negotiate it in the first place — and criticism from Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump doomed it to flounder without ever coming up for a vote. Assistance to Kyiv at a key moment in the war, like the rest of the items envisioned in the proposal, is hurtling into legislative limbo. President Joe Biden, the measure’s strongest supporter, has accused his predecessor of boycotting the text for electoral reasons. “All indications are this bill won’t even move forward to the Senate floor. Why? A simple reason: Donald Trump. Donald Trump thinks it is bad for him politically,” Biden declared in a speech at the White House.

“[The bill] is going to make the country safer. Make the border more secure, treat people more humanely and fairly, and make legal immigration more efficient and consistent with the values of our nation and our international treaty obligations,” Biden added. “Doing nothing is not an option, Republicans have to decide. For years, they said they want to secure the border. Now they have the strongest border bill this country has ever seen,” the president said. In his eyes, Trump, who has publicly come out against the measure, “needs an argument to fight in the campaign” and wants it to be this one.

The proposal, which has received the support of the Border Patrol, has been criticized both by the progressive wing of the Democrats and, above all, by the Republican opposition, which is preparing to veto the debate and the vote on the bill this week. This would leave it hanging in limbo for weeks, if not months. A meeting of conservative senators on Monday night evidenced the strong animosity toward the bill. After 90 minutes of debate, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell himself recommended that his lawmakers vote “no” if they were not convinced by the contents of the bill. Few expressed support for the text.

The bill had begun to be negotiated in October, when Biden asked Congress for a supplemental national security appropriation of nearly $120 billion. Of this, more than half is earmarked for military and economic aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion; nearly $14 billion would be devoted to assisting Israel in the war in Gaza; the rest to collaborate with Taiwan and to strengthen border control, among other objectives. A bipartisan group of senators has since debated how to harmonize the president’s request with Republican demands for immigration reform in order to say yes to funding for Ukraine.

A “terrible” measure, according to Trump

In January, Donald Trump, the favorite in his party’s primaries, spoke out against the bill. Although he was unaware of its contents — the negotiators themselves had not finished drafting it — he lashed out against the proposal at a rally, asserting that it was “terrible.”

Since then, Republican legislators have been aligning themselves with the views of the party’s current undisputed leader. And they refuse to give the Biden Administration anything that could look like a triumph, in the middle of an election year, and even less so on immigration, where voters favor the Republicans. “Don’t be STUPID!!! We need a separate Border and Immigration bill. It should not be tied to foreign aid in any way, shape or form!” wrote Trump on his social network, Truth Social.

The agreed-upon text was released on Sunday. The White House issued a statement expressing its satisfaction and urging Congress to vote on the measure as soon as possible. However, on Monday, even Republican senators involved in the negotiations admitted that the future of the bill is far from clear. This Tuesday, Senator John Thune indicated that his caucus is unlikely to give the go-ahead to proceed with the vote, which Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to hold on Wednesday. “I just think our members still want more time to evaluate it [the proposed bill],” said the Republican, who nevertheless left open the possibility of a vote at a later date.

“After months of good faith negotiations, after months of giving Republicans many of the things they asked for, McConnell and the Republican conference are ready to kill the national security supplemental package, even with the border provisions they so fervently demanded,” Schumer argued.

In the House of Representatives, the measure is even less likely to pass. There, Republicans hold the majority — albeit by just a handful of votes — and House Speaker Mike Johnson has already assured that the bill is “dead on arrival” in this chamber. The Republican bloc plans instead to vote on a bill that is narrowed only to aid to Israel. It has also initiated impeachment proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whom it accuses of lying to Congress and of allowing an excessively lax immigration policy and thereby failing to fulfill the duties of his office.

For Trump and the Republicans, keeping the immigration debate alive is something that can bring them electoral advantages in this campaign. Last year saw record-breaking irregular entries, 2.4 million people, up 14% from the previous year; in December, the Border Patrol apprehended nearly 250,000 people trying to cross the border illegally, the highest number in decades. Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s tactic of sending busloads of these migrants to Democratic-majority cities — Chicago, Denver, New York, Washington DC — has also opened the debate in places that until now supported liberal immigration reform.

The anti-immigration stances have strengthened Trump in his primary battle, and the former president perceives that he can win votes for the November elections by portraying Biden as weak on the issue and inclined to keep the borders “open.” At the same time, the Republican rejection of the bill provides an argument to their Democratic rivals, who may describe the negative as a purely electoralist move and accuse them of not really wanting to solve the problem.

An ABC poll conducted in November found that 36% of Americans said they trusted Republicans more to keep the immigration system secure, compared to 24% who trusted Democrats more. Last month, a series of polls indicated that only 29% approved of immigration management, while 63% disapproved. Meanwhile, Gallup polls show that as the number of border apprehensions has increased, so has voter concern over the issue. If in June of last year, when few crossings were detected, only 9% of independents considered immigration a priority, now 16% of this group sees it as such. And this segment of the electorate may hold the key to the White House.

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