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Senate Republicans press DHS chief on attaching policy changes to border money

Multiple Senate Republicans pressed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday to attach policy changes to the White House border supplemental request.

The exchanges during the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing underscored the uphill battle the Biden administration faces in getting its supplemental funding request passed as the Department of Homeland Security grapples with immense strain on its resources amid a high number of border crossings.

The White House’s border security supplemental ask – totaling around $14 billion – reflects the administration’s repeated requests for funding to bolster personnel along the US-Mexico border, provides funds to cities supporting asylum seekers and funds new initiatives aimed at stemming the flow of migration to the United States.

Earlier this week, Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas announced key border policy proposals that Senate Republicans would like passed in negotiations over the White House’s supplemental request, including building more border barriers. Many of these proposed policy changes have been widely panned by Democrats.

Graham insisted on policy changes, specifically on asylum, in his exchange with Mayorkas on Wednesday. Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi were among those that followed suit.

“Please explain why Congress should provide you with billions more so-called border security funding if you’re just going to keep the same failed policies in place,” Hyde-Smith said.

“I do not think it is a failure of policy. It is the failure of a broken immigration system. It is also the product of an under resourced, perennially, under resourced department,” Mayorkas responded. “This supplemental will assist us in further securing the border by adding critically additional personnel and technology.”

Mayorkas maintained that Congress should pursue comprehensive immigration reform, not piecemeal reform.

But some Democrats on the committee appeared open to discussing potential policy changes in a piecemeal way.

“It’s not that I necessarily agree with what’s being proposed by Republicans. But I do believe we should look for incremental improvements that can be executed in a 10-day or six-week legislative timeframe,” said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

“We can’t say we can’t do anything until we do everything. I just think that’s not a tenable position, given the political configuration of the Congress and what we need to accomplish in the next six weeks,” he added.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut signaled openness to discussing adjustments to the credible fear standard.

“I think that’s a legitimate conversation to have,” Murphy said, adding that doing so, would require new, additional resources for the agency within DHS processing asylum claims.

Asked by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine whether the administration is open to working with Congress to include policy reform to address the surge of migrants at the US southern border, Mayorkas responded: “We need the funding that we’re requesting immediately, that we’re requesting in the supplemental.”

“We have advocated from day one for immigration reform. It is unanimous that our broken immigration system is in dire need of reform,” Mayorkas said, citing a White House blueprint for reform that was released at the start of the administration.

“We fully endorse the need for policy changes, not in piecemeal form, but in a comprehensive form,” he added.

A bipartisan group of senators met last night to discuss if there is a path forward for Republicans and Democrats to find consensus on a limited border package, something that Republicans have made clear they will need to see included in any national security supplemental package to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Two sources familiar with the meeting tell CNN the group, which loosely includes Murphy, Graham, Lankford, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, had a lengthy meeting just a day after Republicans released border policies they wanted to see changed. Those policies were a nonstarter for Democratic leaders.

Still, many in this group have a long history of working together. Tillis, Sinema and Murphy, for example, were the leading negotiators on the limited gun package that passed in 2022. Graham was an architect of the 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate but was never taken up in the House.

Sinema and Tillis also worked together on a border proposal earlier this year and visited the border together on a bipartisan congressional delegation in January.

The efforts to do anything on immigration are a major longshot, but a source familiar with the conversations told CNN that the group is trying to keep focused on just a narrow set of policy changes rather than a major overhaul that is comprehensive.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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