For the past few months, a bipartisan group of senators has been negotiating immigration restrictions that Republicans have demanded in exchange for more money to Ukraine.
Many Democrats in the House fear the Senate will give away too much on immigration and that Republicans are acting in bad faith to tie foreign policy to the Rubik’s cube that is American immigration policy, even as the problem continues to vex President Joe Biden. Republicans argue that focusing on Ukraine’s security without securing America’s border and curbing the influx of migrants would be hypocritical, and per usual, House Republicans seem dissatisfied unless they get everything they want.
On Wednesday, Mr Biden held a meeting with Speaker Mike Johnson and the rest of congressional leadership. As Inside Washington reported on Wednesday, Republicans feared Mr Johnson might cave. Then, the Speaker intimated on Fox News that he had spoken with Mr Trump “frequently” about negotiations.
To top it off, the former president said on Truth Social that he did not think there should be an agreement on Ukraine aid and immigration restrictions “unless we get EVERYTHING needed.”
The remarks bore resemblance to Mr Trump’s presidency when delicate negotiations would be underway before he would extemporaneously react to something he saw on right-wing media via tweet and blow up negotiations and Republicans would respond by saying “I haven’t seen the tweet.” For all of Mr Trump’s talk of The Art of the Deal, the business tycoon wrecked more negotiations in Washington than he shepherded.
Sen James Lankford of Oklahoma, part of the bipartisan team of negotiators, told your dispatcher when asked about them early in the day that “I haven’t seen his comments.” Later on, he tried to spin the remarks to say he and Mr Trump agreed.
“He's been passionate with the border,” he said. “We wouldn't have same border issues now if he was actually his policies, and he was actually carrying those things out.”
Mr Lankford, a conservative Republican if there ever was one, has staked plenty on the negotiations, but his attempt to spin Mr Trump’s remarks in his favor are a reach, to say the least.
Sen John Cornyn, a Republican who represents the border state of Texas and is nobody’s idea of a dove on immigration, for his part rejected Mr Trump.
“Well, number one, there's no deal,” he told The Independent. “So there's nothing to accept or reject. But I think if we can make some progress, then we shouldn't turn that down.”
Sen Susan Collins of Maine for her part reprised her role of furrowing her brow in response to Mr Trump’s erratic remarks.
“I disagree with that,” she told The Independent, saying the United States has a vested interest both in securing its border with Mexico and assisting Ukraine.
Sen Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who was part of the bipartisan group of senators negotiating the deal, defended it, saying that Democrats would not agree to such a deal should Mr Trump return to the presidency.
“I believe that current course and speed is likely a Republican is going to be in the White House,” he said, arguing that any Republicans who want to secure the US-Mexico border should look at the bill – even though text has not been released. Mr Tillis said that under the first Trump administration, the administration could not implement Title 42, a measure that restricted migration during the Covid-19 pandemic and is used for other health emergencies.
“But imagine having something on the books that is effectively Title 42 authority that he could use statutorily authorized,” he told The Independent. “Imagine the additional resources that he could put on an interior enforcement when people look at the bill when it gets filed judge it on that basis.”
Mr Tillis’s argument is effectively one that many other Senate Republicans have made in recent weeks: that should a Republican take the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the party would still be unable to pass restrictions to immigration given that Democrats would likely filibuster them. Similarly, Democrats’ desire to secure funding for Ukraine to push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression gives them substantial leverage that they otherwise will not have should Mr Trump return to the Oval Office.
“If we fail to get this border deal done soon, then they're going to own the responsibility for interior enforcement and statutory authority to fall short because they are the ones who caused this bill not to get passed,” Mr Tillis said.
Mr Johnson and Mr Trump’s good-cop-bad-cop routine on immigration served as a rude reminder that Mr Trump could easily return to the White House. For the longest time, Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have ignored the prospect of Mr Trump returning as much as they could, despite the fact that Mr Trump continued to lead the polls in the presidential primary.
Mr Trump’s overwhelming victory in the Iowa caucuses earlier this week disabused them of this fantasy. It reminded them that they still answer to Mr Trump and, just as importantly, the voters who resoundingly support him.
For the past three years during Mr Biden’s presidency, they have been able to negotiate for the most part without Mr Trump breathing down their backs. But the confirmation of Mr Trump’s status as the leader of the Republican Party means he will still provide the litmus tests they must pass.
Democrats for their part were more dismissive.
“Who gives a s*** what he thinks,” Sen John Fetterman of Pennsylvania told The Independent.