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Updated Feb 6, 2024, 5:05am EST
politicsNorth America

The border bill is off to a rough start in the Senate

REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson
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The News

Barely a day after it was unveiled, the Senate’s bipartisan border bill already appeared to be in danger of sinking thanks to a lack of Republican support.

“I think this proposal is dead,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. told Semafor as he departed a GOP conference meeting Monday night.

The legislation has faced withering criticism from conservatives who’ve argued it would potentially worsen the dysfunction at the southern border. GOP senators are also complaining they need more time to read the bill, while others are demanding an opportunity to offer amendments. And by the end of Monday, it received little outright backing from upper chamber Republicans, leaving its path to the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster unclear.

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For now, Republicans look ready to block an initial procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday that would begin to advance the border bill, along with aid to Ukraine and Israel, as part of a broader national security package.

During Monday’s conference meeting, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has vocally backed the border deal, said members should feel free to vote against moving the legislation forward so that lawmakers would have more time to review it and push changes, according to a person briefed on the discussion.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters that he expected Wednesday’s vote would fail to break a filibuster. “We can’t rush this right now,” Lankford said. “If we’re going to actually move this bill, you gotta have more time to be able to look at it than three days.”

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Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., was among those seeking changes and prepared to oppose advancing the bill on Wednesday. “We got to give it enough time so people actually can read the bill, understand it, and ask for amendments if they’re necessary,” Rounds told Semafor. “That’s what the Senate should be doing. And so I just don’t want to ram it.”

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Know More

Monday’s news wasn’t all bad for the border package. The measure did pick up a notable endorsement from the main union representing Border Patrol agents, which endorsed Trump in 2020.

The National Border Patrol Council said the bill would “drop illegal border crossings nationwide and will allow our agents to get back to detecting and apprehending those who want to cross our border illegally and evade apprehension.”

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The broader national security package also received at least one new endorsement from a Senate Republican, courtesy of Maine’s Susan Collins. “The legislation is by no means perfect, but it would address our border humanitarian and national security crisis and is a substantial improvement over the chaos and lawlessness that characterize the border now,” she said in a statement.

Still, the day’s developments all but doomed supporters’ hopes that the border bill could be moved quickly through the Senate, and raised serious questions about its overall viability.

Behind the scenes, there was GOP frustration at the swift timetable. “Senators don’t like watching something get built in secret for four months and then being told they have less than three days to read it, ask questions and vote without any opportunity to offer amendments,” a GOP Senate aide said. “It’s insulting to treat the conference this way.”

But the bill also faces dug in opposition from Donald Trump and his allies in Congress. Senators are also widely concerned about voting on legislation that is unpopular with the base and may not get a vote in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has said it would be “dead on arrival.”

Democrats were stunned at Monday’s turn of events. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said he was “gobsmacked.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Schatz posted on X. “They literally demanded specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”

Still, key Democrats signaled Wednesday’s vote would proceed as planned. “Let me be clear, we’re absolutely having a vote,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the chief Democratic negotiator, told Semafor.

“There are certainly some typically Republican aligned groups that are supportive of this bill. But Trump seems to be a bit of a puppeteer these days,” Murphy later said. ”I hope that’s not true with respect to this bill.”

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