The emerging bipartisan border deal faces new hurdles among Republicans on Capitol Hill due to opposition from former President Donald J. Trump, who is closing in on his party’s presidential nomination at a critical time for the agreement.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, privately told Republicans on Wednesday that the politics of the issue had been complicated by Mr. Trump’s rise and hostility to the deal, putting the party “in a dilemma,” according to the lawmakers who participated. during the meeting and described his comments on condition of anonymity.
The remarks, reported earlier by Punchbowl News, were striking coming from a Republican who has worked to distance himself and his party from the former president. Mr. McConnell vehemently supported the proposed border compromise and was a leading supporter of a stalled effort to send tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, which Republicans have said they had to be bound by the agreement.
Mr. McConnell’s abrupt change in tone reflects the increasingly difficult challenge facing Senate negotiators as they rush to finalize immigration legislation that the former president is already actively campaigning against.
Mr. Trump encouraged Republicans to reject any border deal “unless we get EVERYTHING” the party has demanded, fueling opposition from Republican lawmakers who argued that the bipartisan proposal, which includes measures to increase border expulsions and making it more difficult to apply for asylum. , does not go far enough.
His opposition has made it more difficult to gain support from a majority of Senate Republicans for a possible deal, a threshold that supporters say must be met to persuade the House to accept it. Even if it meets that bar in the Senate, Speaker Mike Johnson has cast doubt on the possibility of bringing it to the House, where far-right lawmakers vehemently oppose it.
Mr. McConnell addressed Senate Republicans in a closed-door meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss the war in Ukraine, in a session called at the request of Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who is part of those who express doubts about the border agreement. .
“I literally get no acceptable response other than, ‘Oh, that’s great, you know, we’re getting things we never thought we could get,'” Mr Johnson said of the border negotiations from this week. , questioning whether the proposed restrictions would significantly limit the number of migrants attempting to cross the border illegally.
Other Republicans said their party would be unwise to offer President Biden a compromise that could help him politically without adequately addressing the issue.
“A ‘deal’ will allow Biden to claim he is doing something about the border, but it won’t solve the problem,” wrote Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. on social networks Wednesday.
Republican supporters of the deal have argued that members of their party must take advantage of the unique circumstances they find themselves in, with a Democratic president and a Democratic-led Senate that has been persuaded to agree to security measures at the borders without requiring significant compromises to extend the legislation. status to undocumented immigrants or increase legal avenues for immigration.
Mr. McConnell has often argued that Republicans would be less likely to achieve meaningful border enforcement if they controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. On Wednesday, he invoked Mr. Trump’s own complaints from 2018 about the difficulty of getting Democratic votes for border measures to support the point.
Yet senators emerged from the meeting admitting that Mr. Trump’s opposition could have doomed a deal that otherwise had a good chance of uniting the two sides.
The border deal would get support “probably from a majority of Republicans, if they voted their conscience, but there’s more to it than that,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, said after the discussion. Mr. Trump’s “position is important; he is both a former president and increasingly likely to be the next president.”
Some Republicans still said the emerging deal was worth supporting, even if it didn’t satisfy all Republican demands.
“That goes pretty far for me, and I think if anyone is intellectually honest with themselves, they know that these would be extraordinary tools for President Trump,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina. , at the end of the meeting. “We will regret this day if we miss this opportunity. »