Senate border bill hits wall of bipartisan blowback

The walls are closing in from both sides of the aisle on the Senate border security bill, as liberals and conservatives say they can’t stomach the policy changes.

Party leaders pleaded with lawmakers Monday to give the bipartisan deal a chance. They said it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix years of problems at the southern border as part of a $118 billion national security spending bill that also includes aid for Ukraine and Israel to pursue wars.

A crescendo of conservative senators and some key liberal lawmakers announced they would oppose the bill in Wednesday’s first test vote because of the border security provisions.

In a gut punch to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, all his top deputies were either opposed or on the fence:

• Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, chair of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, is opposed.

• Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, both McConnell confidantes, expressed pessimism about the bill passing.

• Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, an adviser to Republican leadership, said he has “questions and serious concerns.”

• Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a vocal proponent for new border policies, said a “robust debate and amendment process” will be needed to stiffen the proposal or else “the bill will die.”

• Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, said: “This isn’t border security. It’s surrender.”

• Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, went so far as to accuse Republican leadership of “disqualifying betrayal” over the deal.

“The ‘border deal’ is an easy NO,” Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who attempted immigration reform with Democrats more than a decade ago, wrote on social media. “It reads like a parody of an actual border security bill.”

At least 20 Republicans were already on record as opposed to the bill, and others are expected to follow. Mr. McConnell and lead Republican negotiator Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma were on an island of their own as no other Republican senators appeared willing to give it their blessing.

Mr. McConnell pitched that the deal was as good as it would get with a divided government.

“The gaping hole in our nation’s sovereign borders on President Biden’s watch is not going to heal itself,” Mr. McConnell said. “And the crater of American credibility after three years of the President’s foreign policy will not repair itself, either.”

Mr. Lankford vented about his conservative colleagues being quick to torch his work.

“There’s a lot of folks that are looking at Facebook and Twitter for their fact base,” he said. “How do we move from doing press conferences about border problems to actually solving some of these border problems?”

The fury was just as palpable among liberals and immigrant rights groups that whacked the proposal as “a disgrace,” “heartlessness” and “racism.”

“We need real, humane immigration solutions that are centered in dignity and justice — NOT exclusionary, enforcement-only policies,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The bill would expand the government’s deportation force, speed up asylum hearings and give President Biden new powers to block illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border. Those authorities wouldn’t kick in until the flow averages more than 4,000 migrants per day.

It would trim some of Mr. Biden’s expansive use of “parole” to catch and release migrants at the border but would also affirm his powers to use parole for migrants who skip the border and fly directly into the U.S.

The deal would stiffen the standards for claiming asylum but shift the decisions away from immigration courts and to asylum officers, who are seen as more favorable to migrants. It also expands legal immigration by 50,000 spaces a year, grants immediate work permits to those who clear the initial asylum hurdle, and creates a pathway to citizenship for tens of thousands of Afghans airlifted out of their country during the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, wants quick action. He set up a vote for Wednesday to try to head off an initial filibuster. Sixty votes, including many from Republicans, will be required to clear the initial hurdle.

The vote on Wednesday is far too soon for many Republicans on the fence, who said they would need a robust amendment process before they would be willing to support it.

Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, who has been Senate Democrats’ leading voice on immigration for years, was lukewarm on the legislation. He said it “may help” at the border but falls short of what he wants to see in terms of legal status for illegal immigrants.

Still, he challenged Republicans to accept the deal as a way to unlock the money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

“To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle: think long and hard about showing weakness to despots like Vladimir Putin,” he said. “Democracy and the rule of law is worth the battle.”

Mr. Durbin, his party’s vote counter in the Senate, must also watch his left flank. Some influential voices said the deal betrays immigrants.

“This was not a negotiation, and the final product shows that,” said Rep. Nanette Barragan, California Democrat and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “But we cannot just throw up our hands and accept bad immigration policies that gut asylum and could set back real bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform 10 to 15 years, for temporary aid.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, the embattled New Jersey Democrat who has pleaded not guilty to public corruption charges and acting as a foreign agent, and Sen. Alex Padilla, California Democrat, blasted negotiators for excluding those with Hispanic roots.

“Could you imagine a voting rights deal coming together without start-to-finish input from the Congressional Black Caucus? Unimaginable!” Mr. Menendez said.

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