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Updated Dec 13, 2023, 5:34am EST
politicsNorth America

Hopes for a border, Ukraine deal before Christmas fade

Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM
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The News

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s last-ditch plea failed to do the trick.

Despite a visit to Capitol Hill by Ukraine’s president on Tuesday, Senate Republicans didn’t budge on their demands for stricter new border policies as a condition for supporting more aid to the war-torn country. Instead, they expressed growing pessimism about being able to lock in a deal by the time the House and Senate skip town for its scheduled Christmas recess at the week’s end.

“It’s practically impossible, even if we reach an agreement, to craft it, get it through the Senate, get it through the House before Christmas,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

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Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX., shared that assessment. He told Semafor he believed hammering out details into legislation capable of passing both chambers would turn into “a January exercise.”

However, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz are keeping up their intense negotiations over the border, now with involvement from the West Wing. They huddled on Tuesday afternoon with Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas along with aides from McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sinema called it a “productive” session in brief comments afterwards.

Lankford is pushing to shutter CBPOne, per a Senate aide briefed on the talks,a mobile app that’s turned into a key portal asylum seekers at the Southern border. Migrants who use it to apply for an appointment in advance and arrive at an official port of entry are eligible for temporary parole that allows them into the country, as well as the opportunity to receive a work permit.

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While the White House argues the system has reduced some of the chaos at the border, Republicans have derided it as a “concierge service” and “Disney Fastpass” for migrants seeking to enter the country.

“The CBP One app was built for this chaotic moment that we’re currently in,” Lankford told reporters on Tuesday. “You just literally show up at the door and get a work permit. We’d have to [shut that down].”

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he called House Speaker Johnson on Monday evening to urge him to keep the House in session next week. If the delicate talks spill into next year, negotiators risk running up against a potential government shutdown deadline that could consume Washington.

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But Johnson appeared to brush off the request Tuesday. “I’m not going to have everybody sit here through Christmas twiddling their thumbs,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. The Louisiana Republican reiterated his familiar demand that the House GOP’s party-line border bill, known as H.R.2., ride alongside Ukraine aid for any security package to have a shot at passing the House.

One GOP senator, though, didn’t buy it. “When he was in our meeting with us, he understood that there would have to be on the part of their folks a compromise with regard to getting it done,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told Semafor, referring to Johnson’s visit to a Senate GOP lunch last month. “He understands what he can do and what he can’t do.”

“They’re not gonna get HR2,” Rounds added.

Regardless, some Democrats are becoming anxious about the White House restoring Trump-era border policies in their desperation to unlock Ukraine aid, like expanding expedited removal authority from the U.S. border so it applies nationwide.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., argued it was a “failed policy that will not address the stipulated concern of the numbers of people coming to the southern border”

“I hear that’s what Republicans are wanting,” Padilla told Semafor. “And when the president says he’s willing to make concessions, that’s possibly concerning.”

CBS News reported on Tuesday that the White House is open to supporting new authority to expel migrants without an asylum hearing, similar to the controversial measure known as Title 42 that expired earlier this year, among other hardline detention policies. Senate Democrats had recently balked on granting DHS new authority to swiftly deport migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.

“The White House has not signed off on any particular policy proposals or final agreements, and reporting that ascribes determined policy positions to the White House is inaccurate,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement, adding Biden is “open to a compromise.”

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The View From Sen. John Kennedy

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told reporters he was willing to stay in the Capitol through Christmas if it meant passing a Ukraine aid andborder deal and has lobbied Schumer to keep fellow Senators in town.

“I’ve got my own ideas that I’ve spoken with him about, but he’s got to keep people here,” Kennedy said shortly after Zelenskyy’s closed-door meeting with senators wrapped up. “And I don’t think just a bunch of nominations is going to do that.”

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