Democrats turn border compromise into a punching bag

Senate Republican leaders speak to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, 21 May (Getty Images)
Senate Republican leaders speak to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, 21 May (Getty Images)

Republicans and a few Democrats voted to tank legislation addressing immigration and border security on Thursday, as Democrats turned a bipartisan compromise into their newest punching bag.

The White House and its allies in the Senate see a political advantage in hammering Republicans over walking away from the table, and brought up the legislation which previously failed to pass the chamber in February again in the hopes of rubbing it in. The move left two of the compromise’s architects, Kyrsten Sinema and James Lankford, fuming. Both joined the effort to kill it; Sinema, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, joined six members of the president’s party in doing so.

“Today is not a bill. Today is a prop. Today is a political messaging exercise,” Lankford, a Republican, told The Hill. “That doesn’t help us as a country.”

Sinema, who called the vote “cynical”, added: "To use this failure as a political punching bag only punishes those who are courageous enough to do the hard work in the first place.”

The bill, like its predecessor, would have expanded the president’s authority to shut down the asylum system if unauthorized border crossings passed a certain monthy threshold. It would also have tightened standards for asylum-seekers and empowered US officials to remove those who did not qualify. Immigration is a key election issue for both sides, and Donald Trump had openly urged his party to kill the legislation earlier this year to avoid handing his opponent a victory on one of his favorite topics.

Democrats were already rubbing salt in the wound before the vote even occurred.

“Republicans are likely going to kill it because Trump told them to keep the border a mess because it helps Trump in the fall election,” said Senator Chris Murphy on X.

“Senate Republicans again rejected the strongest, most comprehensive bipartisan border bill we’ve seen in decades. A sad day. While the GOP isn’t interested today in getting this done—we’ll keep trying,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on X, minutes after the vote took place.

It seems as unlikely as ever that Congress will take any legislative action to address the US southern border before the election. That in itself could end up putting more pressure on Joe Biden to address the problem with executive action. Helping their case are a handful of Republicans, like Lankford, who have not been afraid to blame their own party for playing politics.

Dan Crenshaw of Texas is one of those Republicans. In a gaggle on the Capitol steps today, he told reporters that “torpedoing” the legislation was “inconsistent with what we told our voters we would do” — namely, vote for provisions to fight illegal immigration.

Lankford, meanwhile, trashed his party in a Fox News interview.

“Quite a few of my colleagues backed up, looked for a reason to be able to shoot against it” after Donald Trump signaled his opposition, Lankford said on Fox.

Thursday’s vote matters little in the grand scheme of things but should be considered part of congressional Democrats’ overall strategy in the upcoming elections: paint their enemies as chaos agents who would prefer to play politics with major issues rather than address them. The now-months long fight over an immigration compromise originally constructed by Republicans and Democrats is the latest brick in that wall which also includes the chaos unleashed by Republicans last fall when Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speaker of the House paralyzed the chamber for weeks.

The chambers of Congress are not likely to make much progress on most issues at all in the coming months, given the underlying reason the immigration vote failed: Republicans led by Donald Trump do not want to hand the president a victory in an election year, especially one that polls indicate could be very close.

The former president is heading back to New York today, but not to see the inside of a courtroom for a change. He’s set to hold his first rally in the state in years, and will appear in the south Bronx. The state is not one Trump is expected to have a serious shot of winning in 2024, given its deep-blue reputation and history.

His trial over criminal fraud charges related to his hush money scheme involving porn star Stormy Daniels is headed to a jury after both sides rested their cases. That phase is expected to begin next week with Judge Juan Merchan set to provide the jury with a final version of their instructions by the end of today.

Looking ahead: Donald Trump and Robert F Kennedy Jr will both speak this weekend at the Libertarian Party’s nominating convention in Washington DC. RFK Jr will be on Friday afternoon, while the former president is slated for Saturday evening. The Independent will have coverage of the speeches and the convention itself over Friday and Saturday.