Bipartisan border deal on brink of defeat ahead of key Senate vote

A major bipartisan border deal and foreign aid package appears on track to fail in the Senate later this week one day after its release amid relentless attacks from former President Donald Trump and top House Republicans.

Republicans opposed to the deal, including Trump, have attacked it as too weak even though it would mark a tough change to immigration law and would give the president far-reaching powers to restrict illegal migrant crossings at the southern border. The grim odds facing the bill have also put aid to Ukraine and Israel, two key US allies, in jeopardy and it is unclear if Congress would be able to pass the foreign aid separately. Speaker Mike Johnson has already said the border deal would be dead on arrival in the House.

It would take only 41 senators voting against the bill to sink the deal in an upcoming procedural vote on Wednesday, and there are already 23 senators who have signaled publicly they are opposed to it.

“I think the proposal is dead,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said when asked about his position on the border bill after departing a meeting in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Monday.

McConnell, who helped negotiate the package, told GOP senators that they should vote however they want when the Senate casts a key procedural vote Wednesday to take up the bill, according to a Republican source. Many GOP senators said that Wednesday is too early and they need more time to review the complex package that was unveiled Sunday night. So McConnell suggested that senators should feel free to vote against proceeding to the measure, effectively blocking floor debate.

Sen. James Lankford, the top GOP negotiator for the deal, told reporters Monday night that he doesn’t believe the package has enough support to advance on Wednesday.

The Oklahoma Republican would not say whether he would vote to advance the bill on Wednesday, noting that if he voted “no,” it would only be to give members more time to read the bill and raise any issues they have with it, so it could ultimately pass.

“I’m not undecided on my own bill. I think it’s a good thing to be able to do,” he said. “The biggest issue that I have is obviously I’ve got a lot of members that have questions on it. It’s not going to move and become law if we try to be able to force this right now on it.”

In addition to the border security provisions, the sweeping $118.2 billion legislative package would provide aid to key US allies abroad, including billions of dollars to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and security assistance for Israel, as well as humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine.

Johnson announced Saturday that the House will vote this week on a standalone bill providing aid for Israel, ratcheting up pressure on senators to abandon their efforts to keep Israel aid linked with other issues.

But President Joe Biden would veto a standalone aid package for Israel, the White House said Monday.

“The Administration spent months working with a bipartisan group of Senators to reach a national security agreement that secures the border and provides support for the people of Ukraine and Israel, while also providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by conflicts around the world,” the White House wrote in a statement. “Instead of working in good faith to address the most pressing national security challenges, this bill is another cynical political maneuver.”

The border deal is the product of months of bipartisan negotiations with a trio of senators – Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Lankford, one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.

So far, 20 Republican senators have publicly criticized the bill, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a member of Senate GOP leadership. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a prominent senior Republican, has also said he has serious concerns with the package.

A majority of Senate Republicans are now leaning against the bill or actively planning to vote “no” during the first procedural vote on the package.

“People are still reviewing and digesting the text. And we will figure out from there, based on the input we get from our members, what the path forward is,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune said on Monday.

As for his personal position on the bill, Thune said he said he hasn’t decided.

“I’m like everyone else. I’m reviewing the text. I think James Lankford worked as hard as he could, got the best deal he could under the circumstances. This is something our conference wanted to do,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

He acknowledged that House GOP leaders who have said the bill is dead on arrival had “complicated” matters in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he will vote to filibuster the border deal Wednesday. But he also argued that bipartisan Senate leaders should come to an agreement so senators have more time to fully study and assess the border deal. They should then set up a floor debate that will allow for amendments to be voted on to make changes to the bill.

He said this approach might allow them to pass the funding for Ukraine and Israel — something he supports — and deal with the border deal with more than the three days notice that Schumer is allowing.

“I think it would only be fair to be able to have time to debate the bill, to amend the bill,” he said. “There’s more work to be done.”

Two Democratic senators have publicly attacked the bill – New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and California Sen. Alex Padilla.

Menendez called the deal “unacceptable” in a statement Sunday evening and said, “Accepting this deal as written would be an outright betrayal to the communities we have sworn an oath to protect and represent. If these changes were being considered under Trump, Democrats would be in outrage, but because we want to win an election Latinos and immigrants now find themselves on the altar of sacrifice.”

Padilla said in a statement that it “misses the mark,” adding it will “cause more chaos at the border, not less,” and it “fails to provide relief for Dreamers, farm workers, and the other undocumented long-term residents of our country who contribute billions to our economy, work in essential jobs, and make America stronger.”

Padilla indicated on Monday that there are more Democrats than people know of who will oppose the bill, making it even harder for the bill to get 60 votes to advance on Wednesday.

And independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont indicated in a statement on Sunday that he will oppose funding for Israel, saying, “The United States cannot continue to fund Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people,” referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Supporters of the deal have pushed back on the criticism, including what they have argued are misrepresentations of what the bill would do.

Lankford, a top GOP negotiator, said on Sunday that he is “confused” by criticism from Johnson, who declared that the deal Lankford cut with Democrats is “worse than we expected.”

“I’m a little confused that it’s worse than expected since it builds a border wall, expands deportation flights, expands ICE officers, Border Patrol officers, detention beds. How it creates a faster process for deportation. How it clears up a lot of the long-term issues and loopholes that have existed in the asylum process that stops the chaos on the border. So I’m a little confused. I will have to get with the speaker’s team on that to find out what would be ‘worse than expected’ based on the actual text. Hopefully, they’ve an opportunity to actually read the text,” Lankford told reporters in a conference call.

He said he will have “frank” conversations with GOP senators this week about their concerns with the bill ahead of a key test vote Wednesday and said he thinks there are “misconceptions” about how the bill works.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Kristin Wilson and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.

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