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Updated Jan 19, 2024, 4:49am EST
politicsNorth America

Trump wants to kill the border deal, but GOP senators are brushing him off

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

Donald Trump has come out swinging against the Senate’s as-yet-unfinished border deal. House Speaker Mike Johnson is voicing his own doubts, and reportedly suggested Republicans should wait until they control the White House to pass a package.

But for now, Senate Republicans appear to be brushing the former president’s and current speaker’s words aside as lawmakers forge ahead on negotiations.

“I think it’s a little premature because there is no deal,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas told reporters Thursday, when asked about Trump’s recent criticisms. “I don’t think that should prevent the Senate from trying to do the best we can. And I don’t accept the idea that we got to wait another year to do something when we have more than 10,000 people a day coming across the border.”

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Trump took his bat to the Senate’s border talks in a Wednesday night Truth Social Post. “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all,” he wrote, adding he believed “no doubt that our wonderful Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, will only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER.”

Appearing on Fox, Johnson also confirmed that he and Trump have been discussing the border issue by phone “pretty frequently.” The speaker has expressed his own skepticism toward the Senate deal, and according to Punchbowl told GOP members on Sunday that they “can’t solve the crisis at the border until Donald Trump or another Republican is in the White House.”

But Republican Senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have argued in recent days that waiting for a better deal isn’t an option. Democrats, they point out, aren’t likely to agree to new border restrictions if President Trump is re-elected. And even if the GOP wins a trifecta in November, Democrats will still have the power to filibuster legislation.

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At a Wednesday press conference, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., marveled that Democrats were willing to make border concessions without new pathways to citizenship moving in tandem, calling it “really unheard of.”

“I know that if we do this deal, it helps Biden because it makes him change a policy, which is not working,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told reporters Thursday. “But I think it’s more important that we do what’s right for the country.”

“Democrats will not do this without being forced to do so,” Rounds said.

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Other Senators have been explicit that they’re willing to ignore Trump. “My job is not to reserve a crisis for later when we can solve it sooner,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told Semafor. “But I’m a little disappointed in [Trump’s] opposition to it.”

“I do think it’ll have a negative impact on getting House votes,” Cramer added.

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The View From House Republicans

Even in the House, though, some members are breaking with Trump and batting down Johnson’s suggestion that it may be better to hold out for a more conservative deal.

“I don’t ascribe to that thinking,” Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, told Semafor when asked whether the GOP should wait to act on the issue. “I want to get the border secure so we can save Americans.” During press gaggle, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. said Republicans should “take the policy win” now because, “Frankly, Democrats are not going to vote for a border wall.”

Other House Republicans wanted to wait before casting judgment on the bill. “We have a really good person negotiating in the Senate,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told Semafor. “So my attitude is I’m going to support what he is doing. I haven’t seen anything. People can criticize, I’m not sure what they’re criticizing.”

Hardline conservatives, though, are still demanding that Congress pass the House GOP’s party line border bill, known as H.R. 2, and appear dug in against any possible Senate deal. “I think that ship sailed a long time ago,” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., told Semafor. “I think people are fed up with it.”

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