NATIONAL NEWS

Border security and Ukraine aid collapses despite Biden’s plea for Congress to ‘show some spine’

Feb 6, 2024, 9:21 AM | Updated: 5:28 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate deal on border enforcement measures and Ukraine aid suffered a swift and total collapse Tuesday as Republicans withdrew support despite President Joe Biden urging Congress to “show some spine” and stand up to Donald Trump.

Just minutes after the Democratic president’s remarks at the White House, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell emerged from a GOP luncheon at the Capitol and acknowledged that the deal was dead.

“It looks to me and to most of our members that we have no real chance here to make a law,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.

The split-screen moments in Washington represented a rapid turn of events that showed McConnell’s slipping control of his GOP conference, Trump’s growing influence, and Biden’s ability only to look on as a cornerstone of his foreign policy — halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance into Europe — crumbled in Congress.

Out of funds, the Pentagon is sending no more arms shipments to Kyiv just as the war — entering its third year — reaches a critical juncture. Ukraine is struggling with ammunition and personnel shortages while Russia is on the offensive, mounting relentless attacks.

“Every week, every month that passes without new aid to Ukraine means fewer artillery shells, fewer air defense systems, fewer tools for Ukraine to defend itself against this Russian onslaught,” Biden said. “Just what Putin wants.”

Biden had engaged for months with Senate leaders on a carefully negotiated plan to pair policies intended to curb illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border with $60 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine. The bill was intended to exhibit American strength around the world and would have also sent tens of billions of dollars more for Israel, other U.S. allies in Asia, the U.S. immigration system and humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and Ukraine.

But after Republicans rejected the compromise, the president and Senate leaders are now stranded with no clear way to advance aid for Ukraine through Congress. They have run into a wall of opposition from conservatives — led by Trump — who reject the border proposal as insufficient and criticize Ukraine funding as wasteful.

Biden laid blame for the bill’s demise squarely on Trump — his likely Republican opponent in the November presidential election.

“For the last 24 hours he’s done nothing, I’m told, but reach out to Republicans in the House and the Senate and threaten them and try to intimidate them to vote against this proposal,” Biden said. “It looks like they’re caving. Frankly, they owe it to the American people to show some spine and do what they know to be right.”

Democrats in the Capitol vented frustration at their colleagues as it became clear that the deal was done.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cast Tuesday as a “gloomy day here in the United States Senate” during a floor speech in which he scolded Republicans for backing away from the deal. He still dared them to vote against border security — an issue they have long championed.

“After months of good faith negotiations, after months of giving Republicans many of the things they asked for, Leader McConnell and the Republican conference are ready to kill the national security supplemental package even with border provisions they so fervently demand,” Schumer said.

Senators are still floundering for a way to get Ukraine funding through the Republican-controlled House. And after the border compromise collapsed Tuesday, some suggested jettisoning that portion from the package and advancing the aid for U.S. allies on their own.

But that idea also faces resistance in the Republican-controlled House, where House Speaker Mike Johnson is under pressure from hardline conservatives not to bring any Ukraine funding up for a vote.

When asked about wartime aid for Ukraine and Israel Tuesday, he told reporters, “We have to deal with these measures and these issues independently and separately.”

House Republicans on Tuesday night failed to pass a separate $17.6 billion package of military aid for Israel. Hardline conservatives opposed the bill because the funding would not be offset by budget cuts in other areas. Democrats were also mostly opposed because it undermined the push for a comprehensive package that would include Ukraine and other allies in Asia.

The lack of a national security deal will loom large over Biden’s Friday meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Biden plans to underscore to Scholz that he remains committed to providing Ukraine the funding it needs to continue to repel the nearly two-year-old Russian invasion.

McConnell said in an earlier floor speech that it was essential to assert American strength in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, yet also blamed Biden for not responding sooner to threats from rival powers.

“Either we confront challenges we face with clear strategy and firm resolve or we lose,” McConnell said.

But he reacted with frustration when he was later asked by reporters whether he misread his colleague’s demands for border policy. “I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October,” he said. “I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it.”

After Trump excoriated the compromise, however, the longtime Republican leader has not been able to convince his conference to support the proposal. Within hours of the bill’s release Sunday, Johnson said he would not support it, and even GOP senators who had been supportive of the border policies under discussion came out against the bill on Tuesday.

“The politics of this were a big factor,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. “When the speaker said basically the Senate bill is dead on arrival. And then President Trump weighs in and discourages Republicans from voting for it.”

In light of their refusal to support the bill, some congressional Republicans have shifted to blaming Biden, suggesting that he already has the authority to halt the flow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, a vast oversimplification of the matter.

The Trump campaign said in a statement that “America does not need a ‘border’ bill that does nothing to deter illegal immigration. We need a President who will use his executive authority to shut the border down.”

The border proposal represented one of the most conservative and comprehensive proposals in decades to emerge from a bipartisan negotiation in Congress. It would seek to tamp down the historic number of illegal border crossings by making the asylum process tougher and faster. Presidential administrations would also be given authority to deny migrants from claiming asylum at the border if the number of migrants claiming asylum becomes unmanageable for authorities.

Biden called the proposal “the most fair, humane reforms in our immigration system in a long time, and the toughest set of reforms to secure the border ever.”

But Republicans have largely heeded the wishes of Trump to reject the bill because it would show that Biden could act to address problems at the border, which is seen as one of his largest vulnerabilities in his reelection campaign.

“Americans will turn to the upcoming election to end the border crisis,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming in a statement.

But Biden too suggested he would make the Republican rejection of border policies a campaign issue, saying, “I’ll be taking this issue to the country and the voters are going to know that.”

___

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed.

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Border security and Ukraine aid collapses despite Biden’s plea for Congress to ‘show some spine’