GOP Negotiator Defends Border Proposal Amid Trump Pressure

(Bloomberg) -- A key Republican senator defended an emerging deal on border security as a step toward potentially halting illegal immigration, defying pressure by former President Donald Trump to abandon the plan.

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“I’m looking forward to President Trump getting the opportunity to be able to read it, like everybody else is,” Senator James Lankford, the bill’s top Republican negotiator, said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

The bill would tighten asylum access, increase US Border Patrol agents and asylum officers, detain and deport more immigrants and restrict migrant releases into the US, Lankford said, in the most detailed summation a negotiator has provided to date.

With no agreed version of the plan published, House Republicans have slammed news reports that suggest it wouldn’t meet the full range of their demands to address what has also become an election-year challenge for President Joe Biden. The deadlock is holding up Biden’s request for billions in emergency aid to US allies such as Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Speaker Mike Johnson last week declared the Senate’s proposal “dead on arrival” in the House if “rumors” about what it contains are true. Trump echoed previous posts on his social media platform and praised Johnson while campaigning for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in Las Vegas on Saturday.

“I noticed a lot of the senators, a lot of the senators are trying to say — respectfully, they’re blaming it on me,” Trump told the crowd. “That’s OK. Please blame it on me. Please. Because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill. I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who’s in Washington for talks with administration officials and US lawmakers this week, argued that Biden’s proposed aid to Ukraine is “a good deal.”

“By using a fraction of the US defense budget, we have been able to destroy and degrade the Russian army substantially, and therefore we should continue to do so,” he said on Fox News Sunday. Europe and the US will be more vulnerable if Russian President Vladimir Putin “gets what he wants in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Lankford didn’t provide specifics on when the bill text would be ready, though fellow Senate negotiators said last week it was close to complete.

Senator Chris Murphy, the top Democratic negotiator, told CNN’s State of the Union he’s confident that enough Republicans in the chamber will join in to pass the legislation, “potentially as early as the next week or two.”

Some lawmakers have chafed at Trump’s effort to influence the border-security negotiations.

“He’s irrelevant to this conversation, he’s not in office, all right? ” Senator Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, told Fox News. “And by the way, I talked to President Trump, he’s never asked me to be opposed to something.”

‘Shut Down’

Biden said Friday that the emerging deal, if passed, is the “toughest and fairest set of reforms” the US has ever had and would give him emergency authority to “shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed.”

The action would look similar to the authority used during Covid-19 to oust asylum-seekers and other immigrants, called Title 42.

“And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law,” Biden said.

Republicans have criticized the letter, claiming the president could use his executive powers now to turn around the influx of immigrants from the border with Mexico.

Biden said this month that he would be open to major changes at the US-Mexico border, including to asylum policies — a significant concern among progressive members of the party — if it meant finalizing a deal to unlock aid for Ukraine.

--With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer.

(Updates with NATO leader’s comments in seventh paragraph.)

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