Speaker Mike Johnson is publicly and privately panning the Senate’s ongoing border and immigration negotiations. Senate Republicans are reminding him that it’s the best deal he’ll ever get.
Republicans senators said on Tuesday that they see only worse opportunities ahead to craft a border bill that can pass, given that Democrats who run the Senate and White House are now considering major changes to asylum policy, new expulsion authorities and perhaps even putting limits on presidential parole authority. If Republicans try to wait for a better deal after November’s election, senators say, they could end up with GOP control over Congress and the White House — but Democrats who are in no mood to deal on the issue.
“There’s absolutely no way that we would get the kind of border policy that’s been talked about right now with a Republican majority in the Senate, unless we get a 60-vote majority, which isn’t going to happen … there aren’t many Democrats that are going to be available,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the minority whip. “This is a unique moment in time. It’s an opportunity to get some conservative border policy.”
Thune described the current situation at the nation’s southern border as a “national security emergency.” If House Republicans slam the door on an immigration deal, some in the Senate GOP worry that won’t exactly jibe with their message that the border is a five-alarm fire.
Republicans contend that the domestic national security risks of surging migration are just as important as foreign aid. Over the past two months, that argument has become the reason that the GOP won’t move forward on Ukraine aid — compelling reluctant Democrats to the table in a bid to shake loose President Joe Biden’s $100 billion-plus national security spending proposal.
Now senators and the Biden administration are discussing a deal that would restrict migration and beef up border funding, while also sending billions of dollars to Ukraine. Republicans spent months building a messaging campaign focused on what they see as a growing border crisis. Some of them, including Texas’ own GOP governor, might be more interested in a compromise solution than delaying until next year.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he recently discussed with his state’s governor, Greg Abbott, the idea of waiting out Democrats for a better deal after the election. Abbott’s response, according to Cornyn, was: “So we’re just supposed to take this flow of humanity across the border for the next year?
“I don’t think we should fail to do our duty just because the House may have a different view,” Cornyn said. “It makes no sense to wait if we could do something now that would be meaningful.”
Over the weekend, Johnson posted on X “absolutely not” in response to a Fox News screen that criticized a potential border deal; Thune responded that “unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff leaked out there which doesn’t reflect some of what’s being discussed and negotiated.”
But Johnson’s position isn’t exactly a secret: He wants the hardline H.R. 2 bill that the House passed last year, reiterating his position in a conference call on Sunday.
Senate Democrats aren’t going to support that bill. And if Donald Trump wins the presidency this fall, they won’t be eager to help him restrict immigration; one of his proposals to help the immigrant group known as Dreamers and restrict legal immigration was roundly defeated in 2018 (other, more moderate options failed too).
There’s a reason immigration bills don’t go anywhere in Congress: They’re big, they’re complicated and they tick off each party’s base. At the moment, the Senate GOP is making a clear recommendation to its House counterparts, who are quite in tune with that base: If we get a deal, take the win.
“We’ve got a giant problem with thousands of people coming every day. So we’ve got to work to find solutions. I wouldn’t shut the door.” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
Ursula Perano contributed to this report.