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Johnson Digs In Against Border Deal to Unlock Ukraine Aid, Defying Biden

In World
January 17, 2024

WASHINGTON — Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday threw cold water on the idea of striking an immigration deal with Democrats that could revive stalled legislation to send aid to Ukraine, hours before a meeting in which President Joe Biden planned to make a renewed push for the plan.

“I don’t think now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform because we know how complicated that is,” Johnson said Wednesday morning before an afternoon meeting at the White House. “You can’t do that quickly. I do think it’s past time to secure the border.”

Johnson said he told Biden on Thursday during a 30-minute phone call that he was dug in on the matter and would deliver the same message face to face later Wednesday. Biden has summoned Johnson and other congressional leaders as well as the top-ranking national security committee lawmakers in Congress, in an urgent bid to break a monthslong logjam over military assistance for Ukraine and the border security policies Republicans have insisted are a requirement for the aid.

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“I’m going to tell the president what I’m telling all of you, what we’ve told the American people: border, border, border,” Johnson said. “We have to secure our own border before we talk about doing anything else. And that’s the message I’ve had since Day 1.”

A group of Senate Republicans and Democrats as well as Biden administration officials have made substantial progress in recent weeks toward a compromise that would clamp down on migration at the southwestern border and unlock support for a fresh round of money for Ukraine. But House Republicans have stood against the emerging deal, which has infuriated the party’s hard-right base, arguing that a more severe crackdown is needed.

In yet another indication that they are in no mood to compromise, House Republican leaders have scheduled a vote Wednesday on a resolution denouncing what they call Biden’s “open-border policies” and calling on him to end them.

“The border is a catastrophe, and it has to be addressed,” Johnson said Wednesday. “You’re going to see House Republicans standing and fighting on that hill because it’s important for the country.”

The bipartisan group of senators has agreed to measures to make it more difficult for migrants to claim asylum after crossing the border, and expanded detention and expulsion powers. But the negotiations have hit a snag over limiting parole authority, which the administration uses to allow some migrants who attempted to enter the United States illegally to remain in the country and work until their cases can be heard in immigration court.

Johnson suggested that a border deal, even one that met all the Republicans’ demands, might not be enough to win their support for funding Ukraine’s war effort against Russia. He insisted that the administration provide other guarantees and accountability measures.

“What is the endgame and the strategy in Ukraine? How will we have accountability for the funds?” Johnson asked. “We need to know that Ukraine will not be another Afghanistan.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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