The White House believes it’s closing in on a deal with Senate Republicans to approve more aid for Ukraine in exchange for major reforms to U.S. border enforcement policies, per a person briefed on their outreach.
But the concessions could make many Democrats uneasy — if not outright furious — at the large price paid to secure more foreign aid to Kyiv, which Republicans have said they will only support if paired with new measures to curb the flow of migrants at the border.
One potential component of the deal would make it more difficult for migrants to qualify for asylum, by raising the standard to show they have a “credible fear” of being persecuted back home. Another piece would trigger a new authority similar to Title 42, the controversial COVID-era policy established by the Trump administration that allowed for the quick expulsion of migrants, if border crossings reached a certain level.
The agreement could also include changes to the Department of Homeland Security’s expedited removal authority, according to the person briefed as well as another source familiar with the talks. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Already, some Democratic senators were assailing the package as a restoration of stringent, Trump-era rules on the border without any concession from Republicans to expand legal pathways to citizenship.
“To think that concessions are going to be made without benefiting a single dreamer, a single former worker, a single undocumented essential worker is unconscionable,” Sen, Alex Padilla, D-Calif., told reporters. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said he “could not comprehend” that Biden seemed ready to put forward “the most Trumpian anti-immigrant proposal that President Trump himself could only have dreamed of accomplishing.”
GOP negotiators said they believed they were making progress in securing a border policy package that’s tilted toward conservative priorities.. They also welcomed the escalating Democratic attacks on the negotiations.
“There are several Democrats that have spoken against it,” GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. told Semafor. “That means we’re hitting the right sort of tone.”
The negotiating trio of Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and James Lankford, R-Okla. continued meeting through Wednesday alongside senior officials from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, per a Democratic source with knowledge of the talks. Staff from Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell have been in the room during the discussions as well.
Sinema also met with Reps. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y, ; Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.; Jimmy Panetta D-Calif; and Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz. to update them on border talks, according to a Sinema aide familiar with the gathering.
Murphy was reluctant to share details about the talks, though he suggested it’s been a challenge to craft a balanced piece of legislation capable of passing both the House and Senate. “There’s a package that’s way too hot for Democrats,” he said. “There’s a package that’s too weak for Republicans.”
Tillis said he won’t endorse a deal unless it draws the support of at least 25 GOP senators, or a majority of the GOP Senate conference.
Other Democrats are also reaching out to senior Republicans. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., told Semafor he requested a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday afternoon to “compare notes” and emphasize his commitment to clinch a deal. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Chris Coons, D-Del also attended.
“I hope we negotiate an outcome that’s good for the American people,” Bennet, a staunch supporter of Ukraine aid, said. “That’s what we need to do.”
Bennet added “we’re closer today than we were yesterday.” Other Democratic senators also remain optimistic even as criticism of border concessions mount.
“The thing about negotiations [is that] nobody gets everything they want,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told Semafor. “That’s why it’s called a negotiation. Everybody gives a little and we end up with something that not everybody’s crazy about, but everybody lives with.”
The View From The Congressional Hispanic Caucus
CHC Chair Nanette Barragán and other Latino lawmakers lambasted the White House for signaling openness to stiffer border policies. Barragan said the CHC was denied a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients.
“Republicans are pitting vulnerable groups against each other to strong-arm policies that will exacerbate chaos at the southern border,” Barragán said. “We are urging the Biden administration to say no. Don’t take the bait.”
Another person familiar with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering told Semafor that Zients called Barragán, along with Padilla and Menendez in recent days. More engagement is possible, the person added.