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Failure of border bill creates a political opening for Biden

The failure of a bipartisan border deal reached by senators this weekend appears set to hand President Joe Biden an issue that he can wield against former President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers on the campaign trail.

Biden on Tuesday promised to blame Republicans in Congress directly for the apparent failure of the deal, saying the country will hear about how those Republicans caved to Trump’s attempts to scuttle the bill after months of intense bipartisan negotiations. Senate Republicans tanked the bill in a key vote Wednesday, 49-50.

The bill would have included some of the most significant changes in immigration policy seen in decades, along with aid for Ukraine and Israel. But any hope for the deal seemed to be dashed after Trump came out against it, apparently so he could campaign on Biden’s perceived weakness on the border.

Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, Biden vowed to turn Trump’s strategy around on him.

“If the bill fails,” Biden said, “I want to be absolutely clear about something: the American people are going to know why.”

The failure of the bill could give Biden a political upper hand, allowing him the opportunity to say that a deal on the border had been brokered until Trump torpedoed it, effectively punting what has been his most challenging domestic issue to his likely 2024 rival.

“Every day between now and November the American people are going to know the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends. It’s time for Republicans in Congress to show a little courage, to show a little spine, to make clear to the American people that you work for them, not for anyone else.”

But the failure of the bill still leaves unresolved an intractable political issue which has vexed presidents and Congresses of both parties for decades - one that has led to what leaders near the border have called a true humanitarian crisis. It would also have a real impact on battlefields from Ukraine to Gaza, Biden warned.

In response to the failed package, Senate leaders are planning to move forward with a procedural vote that includes emergency aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan but doesn’t include the border provisions that Republicans demanded before turning them down.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to force a vote on the emergency aid on Wednesday, according to a Democratic aide. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans have endorsed the move – so it’s possible Schumer could get 60 votes to take up the aid package.

But Speaker Mike Johnson has opposed tying these all together, so taking this step would set up a showdown with the House. A standalone bill that would provide $17.6 billion in aid to Israel previously failed in the House Tuesday night.

Biden said that those who oppose the border bill are “denying aid” to Palestinian people who are “really suffering.”

“This bipartisan agreement also provides Israel with what it needs to protect its people and defend himself against Hamas terrorists, and it will provide the necessary lifesaving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” the president said. “By opposing this bill, they are denying aid to the people who are really suffering and desperately need help.”

The bill’s failure could also exasperate the burgeoning standoff between Biden’s administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. The latter has taken extraordinary steps to address what he has described as a void in federal law enforcement on the border by giving local law enforcement the ability to arrest migrants, and placing razor wire on the border to deter unlawful crossings. Abbott has defied a Supreme Court order to remove the wire.

The bill included provisions that would require the Department of Homeland Security to bar migrants, except unaccompanied minors, from crossing the border between ports of entry if unlawful crossings reached a certain threshold. It also enhanced the legal standard of proof required for the processing of asylum claims and expanded use of Alternatives to Detention, like ankle monitors, for migrants to check in with authorities.

Those provisions, Biden said, amounted to “the most fair, humane reforms in our immigration systems in a long time - and the toughest set of reforms to secure the border ever.”

Congressional Republicans had been largely pleased with the resulting deal. The reliably conservative Border Patrol union endorsed it, and Biden and Republican negotiators repeatedly signaled their joint optimism that a deal would be reached. But it all unraveled after Trump, who remains a GOP kingmaker, signaled his opposition.

“Now, all indications are this bill won’t even move forward to the Senate floor,” Biden said. “Why? A simple reason: Donald Trump.”

Trump, Biden said, would “rather weaponize this issue than actually solve it.”

Biden’s campaign immediately seized on Trump’s push to sink the border bill, sending supporters an email listing the instances when Trump called for immigration reform.

“Donald Trump has directed MAGA Republicans to kill the toughest and fairest reforms to secure the border in decades because he thinks it will help him politically,” the Biden campaign said in an email blast.

The president also referenced in a post on X a recent campaign rally in which Trump said he’d take the blame from senators for the bill’s collapse.

“You got it,” Biden wrote.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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