Votes on major bipartisan immigration deal in Congress said to be nearing

Republican Sen. James Lankford speaks with reporters outside the U.S. Capitol about border policy negotiations on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON (States Newsroom) — A U.S. Senate vote is expected next week on a bipartisan deal that would overhaul U.S. immigration law and provide more than $100 billion for a global security package.

The long-awaited bill text on the supplemental package to aid Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region and U.S. border security could be made public as early as Friday or as late as Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.

He said he plans a procedural motion on Monday, “leading to the first vote on the national security supplemental no later than Wednesday.”

The immigration deal has faced two big problems: funding and former president Donald Trump.

Republican lead negotiator James Lankford of Oklahoma said work on the bill is in its final stages, which negotiators have said repeatedly.

“It’s all the technical aspects… it’s check, re-check,” Lankford told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s the frustrating season, though. Tomorrow (is) Groundhog Day. It feels like it’s today.” He was referring to the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray in which a weatherman is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over in a time loop.

Problems remain with cost and campaign politics. “Our policy deal is done,” lead Democratic negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said. “But it requires the bill to fund the changes that Republicans asked for, and if you support this deal, then you need to support the funding necessary to get it done.”

Murphy declined to comment on cost estimates for the legislation that would make changes to U.S. asylum law and enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border.

He added that he’s “increasingly worried” that Senate Republicans will walk away from the deal because of outside pressure from Trump, the current GOP front-runner, who wants to quash it in order to continue stoking immigration fears as part of his 2024 presidential campaign platform.

“Republicans are talking about walking away from it just because Donald Trump doesn’t like it — that’s ridiculous,” Murphy said.

Trump continues attacks

Schumer said on the Senate floor that as negotiators make progress, the “louder voices get on the outside who want to kill these negotiations in their tracks.”

“There are always going to be some who prefer to exploit the issue of the border instead of fixing it, so the real question is whether senators can tune all that noise out and focus on reaching an agreement,” he said.

During a meeting with the Teamsters Union in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, Trump again said he is opposed to the immigration deal in the Senate.

“You don’t need a deal to tighten up the border and to make it secure,” he said. “I don’t think you’re gonna get a great bill.”

Trump added that if Republicans vote for the legislation, he thinks “they’re making a terrible mistake.”

Biden pushing for deal

President Joe Biden publicly committed in mid-January to sign into law the Senate bipartisan deal that Sens. Lankford, Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona, have worked on for four months.

Some of the proposed immigration policy changes include curbing the Biden administration’s use of parole authority, which the administration has heavily relied on to grant temporary protections to migrants by allowing them to live and work in the United States without visas.

Another would be to raise the bar for migrants to claim asylum, as well as expedited removal proceedings. Murphy noted, “That doesn’t happen for free.”

“That’s just the reality that if you want to stand up and do emergency power at the border, you have to fund it,” he said. “If you want to dramatically shorten the asylum processing time, you have to fund it.”

Not up to Congress, Johnson says

The Republican-led House, including Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, has been less receptive to agreeing to the Senate’s bipartisan deal, before the bill text is even released.

On Wednesday, in Johnson’s first speech as speaker on the House floor, he stated that action on U.S. immigration law was up to Biden, not Congress, while also advocating for changes on the southern border.

“President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have designed this catastrophe,” Johnson said, referring to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is the current subject of an impeachment drive by House Republicans.

“And now, rather than accept any accountability or responsibility for what they have clearly done, President Biden wants to somehow shift the blame to Congress.”

Tensions between Texas and the federal government have also risen since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Lone Star State to remove razor wire fencing along the Texas-Mexico border. Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has defied those orders, and Republicans, including Johnson, have backed his decision.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, along with 14 GOP governors including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, are heading to Texas this weekend to tour the southern border. The governors will also hold a press conference to protest the Biden administration’s border policies.

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