‘My Own Line Turned Around And Sacked Me’: James Lankford Hasn’t Forgotten The Border Bill Debacle

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is using a sports metaphor to describe what happened to him when his fellow Republicans, with the urging of former President Donald Trump, rejected a carefully negotiated border security and foreign aid bill in early February.

“When I called the play as the quarterback that day, and my own line turned around and sacked me, that was definitely a surprise to me. Because everybody was fully aware what the play call was,” Lankford said in an appearance this week before the conservative Ripon Society in Washington, D.C.

Lankford was one of three main negotiators on the bill, along with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). After Republicans in September rejected sending more weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against a Russian invasion, and instead demanded that any aid be tied to border security changes, the trio started writing a bill of their own.

The final product would have enhanced the president’s ability to shut down the U.S. border in certain circumstances, and would have provided about $60 billion in aid to Ukraine. But many Republicans said it did not go far enough, and some openly worried it would give President Joe Biden a political win in an election year.

Trump publicly urged Republicans not to agree to the proposed deal, saying it would benefit Democrats and Biden. House Leader Mike Johnson (R-La.) obliged, saying that even if the bill passed the Senate, he would not bring it up for a vote in the House.

“Please, blame it on me,” Trump said in a Las Vegas appearance.

Some senators said they were shocked by the bill’s provisions, including the circumstances under which a border shutdown would be allowed. “This is worse than bad negotiation. It’s betrayal,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the bill “INSANE” in a social media post.

But Lankford said Tuesday that none of the Republican senators could honestly claim surprise at the bill’s provisions, because he had briefed them on it well in advance.

“I met personally with every single Republican, sat down with him, talked him through all the details, five weeks before it came out, as we’re finalizing text,” Lankford said. “We went through every section of it — the good, the bad and the ugly, both the salad and the steak.”

“Everyone knew what was in that bill,” he said. “Everybody knew what was in it.”

In the end, only three other Republicans besides Lankford voted to advance the compromise: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah).

The Senate later passed — with 70 votes — a bill to send aid to Ukraine without any border provisions, but it has not been taken up in the House yet. Ukrainian forces have since lost the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka, a loss attributed to having to ration ammunition and artillery.

Lankford said what happened with the border bill reflected a party base that increasingly prefers getting nothing over having to compromise to get something.

“For me, the challenge that we have right now is this sense of an activist base that says ‘I want everything or I want nothing, and nothing is better than something.’ [That] does not not align with many people across the country,” he said.

“Because many people across the country are saying, ‘These are hard problems. Do something. Don’t just stand there. Do something.’”