Trump’s push to deny Biden border victory aggravates lawmakers

Trump’s push to deny Biden border victory aggravates lawmakers

Former President Trump’s push to kill the border deal in order to deny President Biden a legislative win is upsetting members on both sides of the aisle as negotiators hope to wrap up work on an agreement within days.

Trump had been the sleeping giant in the background of talks, but his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, coupled with his recent remarks calling for Republicans to oppose any border package short of H.R. 2, have complicated the path forward for the Senate.

Lawmakers say they are worried that killing the deal would be a major disservice given the situation at the border and in Ukraine.

“If politics get in the way of this — if Donald Trump who wants to help his friend [Russian President Vladimir Putin] with Ukraine and wants to keep the border alive as a major issue — if that prevails, that would be a really horrible disposition to all this,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told reporters.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the effort “appalling.”

“But the reality is that we have a crisis at the border, the American people are suffering as a result of what’s happening at the border, and someone running for president ought to try to get the problem solved as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, save that problem. Don’t solve it. Let me take credit for solving it later,’” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.

Romney: ‘Appalling’ Trump wants to kill border bill so he can ‘blame Biden’

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), however, believes it could backfire on the former president and could cause some “resentment” among Senate Republicans who are interested in backing the eventual deal.

Border negotiations have been ongoing since before Thanksgiving, but they hit high gear in mid-December once the White House and Biden administration officials got involved, something Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) publicly asked for earlier.

That’s pushed the battle into the heart of the Republican primary season.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) speaks to reporters before a closed-door Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Capitol on Thursday, January 18, 2024. (Greg Nash)

With the bill on the verge of completion and Trump on the verge of defeating former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), the former president’s conservative allies in the Senate are effectively attempting to kill the border package, which would also seriously endanger any future aid for Ukraine.

Republican senators who would be more open to the Senate bill are concerned that the political winds could be blowing against them.

“This administration is probably feeling the heat from folks back home who are saying this is a No. 1 issue to the American people. It is clearly something that has to be addressed and he has very little opportunity for a reelection if this is not addressed,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said.

“I think the politics of this may sometimes get confused with what’s best for our country. The politics would suggest that you allow [Biden] to simply boil in his own oil on this particular subject matter and it would make it a lot easier for anyone to defeat him in a general election as serious as the border problem is,” Rounds continued. “[We] understand how serious this is for our country, and the precedent here should be we’re going to do what’s right for the country, and that’s to defend and make the southern border as secure as we possibly can.”

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Reports emerged Wednesday that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had broached the idea of separating the border and Ukraine portions of Biden’s supplemental request during a special Senate GOP conference meeting due to the changing political nature with Trump’s victories.

But numerous Senate Republicans said Thursday that McConnell told them no such thing and was still behind pairing the border bill with monies for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and humanitarian purposes.

Lankford, the lead GOP negotiator on the border package, said he is moving full steam ahead with negotiations and remains hopeful that they will have a deal next week.

He added that the political ramifications are out of his control, even though they are a factor in the push to get the bill across the finish line.

“I don’t have any doubt that President Trump would be glad to have these same authorities as president, but I also understand this is a huge campaign issue. We’re just going to have to balance both of those and just know that’s a reality,” Lankford said, adding that he has not talked to Trump recently.

But more than anything, some members are fed up that these political issues are rearing their head at what they consider to be a critical moment, especially with Ukraine’s war at a crucial stretch and with text of the bill not even released yet.

“I think there will be frustration,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), referring to those who want a deal, but she cautioned that the reaction will be “all over the place” in the conference.

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