McConnell to Speaker Johnson: Prepare to get a border-Ukraine deal from the Senate

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday brushed back Speaker Mike Johnson’s concerns about a potential bipartisan border deal tied to Ukraine funding, as Senate leaders projected renewed confidence that their negotiators are close to an accord.

Ahead of a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders, Johnson continued to tout the House GOP’s hardline border plan while questioning Senate talks that will fall far short of his members’ demands. McConnell acknowledged that he wasn’t sure what Johnson might do with a Senate-passed border bill — but made clear that would not affect the Senate’s path forward.

“It’s not unusual for the House and Senate to be in a different place on an issue,” McConnell told reporters. “The supplemental in the Senate is designed to actually pass … we can only deal with what’s before us in the Senate.”

McConnell said it’s his “assumption” that the Senate will take up the legislation next week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wouldn’t commit to that timeline for the proposal to pair new border and immigration restrictions with $100 billion in foreign aid, but said there was a better-than-even chance that the Senate would pass a bill: “For the first time, I’m optimistic.”

Taken together, the two leaders’ comments are the clearest sign that the Senate is going to try to push past Johnson’s reluctance to endorse their long-in-the-works agreement. Johnson and House conservatives may still stop a massive foreign aid and immigration deal in its tracks, but the Senate appears resolved to take a laborious gamble on the lower chamber.

Senators and the Biden administration have spent more than two months negotiating, staying in Washington over the holidays while the rest of Congress went home. There is no deal yet, though, despite the rosy tone Wednesday from Schumer and McConnell.

“There are still multiple issues outstanding. None of them are insurmountable. It is possible to vote next week,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the three principal negotiators. “We’ve blown through every artificial deadline on these talks and negotiations, so I’m maybe a little more sanguine about our ability to wrap this up.”

Earlier Wednesday, Johnson made the case for more oversight of aid to Kyiv and said that “we need to know that Ukraine would not be another Afghanistan.”

Asked about that remark, McConnell touted progress for women and terrorist suppression while the U.S. military maintained a presence in Afghanistan. He and other hawkish Republicans argue that cutting off funding to Ukraine sends a bad message to America’s foreign adversaries, just as leaving Afghanistan did.

“My view — may be different from others — was that Afghanistan was a big success. And that [by] withdrawing from Afghanistan we sent a message to Putin, for example, that maybe we were pulling back from international responsibility,” McConnell said.

In response to House Republicans who argue a border deal would help President Joe Biden and that Republicans should wait until after the presidential election, McConnell said a unified GOP government “would not be able to get a single Democratic vote” to pass potential changes to asylum laws, presidential parole power and expulsion authority.

“This is a unique opportunity to accomplish something in divided government,” McConnell said. “That we wouldn’t have a unified government.”