Border bill on life support

Punchbowl News reports on the unraveling of Republican support for the border bill component of the “emergency” national security supplemental appropriation act last night. “Supplemental national security appropriations act” should probably be in quotes too. This is a characteristic Washington farce.

Senator Schumer planned to put up the bill for an initial procedural vote tomorrow. The more time his Republican colleagues had to look at the bill, my theory went, the worse it would look. Speed was of the essence. That’s still my theory, but now the bill itself presents a different kind of emergency. It’s on life support.

Here is Punchbowl’s report by Andrew Desiderio, Laura Weiss, and Max Cohen following the meeting of the GOP Senate caucus last night — make your own diagnosis:

The Senate’s $118 billion bipartisan border security supplemental stunningly unraveled Monday less than 24 hours after it was released, with top Republicans reversing their previous positions and indicating they’ll block the measure from advancing for the time being.

A number of GOP senators came out against the proposal on Monday. They ranged from the Senate Republican Conference’s most conservative members to defense hawks who want to see Ukraine funded. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team and some of his closest allies rejected the package.

This wave of opposition prompted McConnell to recommend to Republicans behind closed doors Monday night that they vote against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill this week, according to multiple attendees — effectively halting the effort in its tracks and throwing new aid to Ukraine into serious jeopardy.

McConnell, according to attendees, said his view was that the problem isn’t the bill itself but that the political mood in the country has shifted since the Senate first began this effort four months ago. This is a reference to former President Donald Trump’s surge toward the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, plus the poor outlook for the proposal among House GOP lawmakers.

McConnell still backs the underlying bill, but he made this recommendation after it became clear that most Republicans were preparing to vote “no,” either because they oppose the legislation outright or want more time to consider and, potentially, try to amend it.

McConnell’s reversal — first signaled two weeks ago — still surprised some GOP senators. While McConnell’s aides insisted he’d made no recommendation either way, both supporters and opponents saw his comments as a free pass for any wavering Republicans to vote no.

Several Republicans who are generally supportive of the bipartisan measure effort — drafted by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — said they want guarantees from leadership on the amendment process before voting for cloture to advance the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has teed up a Wednesday procedural vote, which is now almost certain to fail.

“You’re not going to get it done in three days and get an agreement on an amendment process,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who said he’d vote against cloture but still wants to move forward with the process. “Let’s not quit now and lose everything because we didn’t give people enough time to digest it.”

“A bill of this magnitude being brought to the floor in 48 hours is really rushing,” added Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a defense hawk who backs Ukraine funding.

Even Lankford, the lead GOP negotiator, wouldn’t say if he plans to vote to advance the bill, citing the fact that very few Republicans are ready to do so. Lankford, however, still insisted the effort isn’t dead: “Obviously I’ve got a lot of members that have questions on it. It’s not going to move and become law if we try to force this right now. So there’s a difference between opposing a bill and saying, ‘We can’t rush this right now.’ Right now it’s a work in progress. So I’m not willing to do a funeral on it.”

After the 90-minute meeting, McConnell told reporters that the discussions would continue. His deputy, Minority Whip John Thune, indicated it’s likely that GOP senators filibuster the bill because they believe Wednesday is “too early” to kick off the process.

But with all the momentum turning against a bipartisan deal, a delay is almost certainly fatal. Those Republicans who oppose Ukraine funding, as well as GOP senators who don’t want to hand a victory to President Joe Biden in an election year, aren’t going to support it no matter what. And it’s unclear if there would be enough Republicans willing to move ahead with the bill after a failed procedural vote on Wednesday.

“There is broad consensus that we’re not going to grant cloture this week,” added Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of the leading critics of the bill. “The division from there is, is the bill salvageable? Or salvageable with a lot of work? Or is it dead? … But I think there are a lot of Republicans who want to debate and work on it.”

The House GOP leadership’s refusal to even consider putting the Senate bill on the floor is likely to have an impact, too. And Trump has been in overdrive trying to sink it.

“It’s complicated,” Thune said. “Obviously, people want a result, they want an outcome if they’re going to go through this process. To make law around here, you’ve got to get it through the House and Senate.”

GOP senators said they plan to discuss the issue again at today’s weekly policy lunch.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans are still taking open shots at one another.

“Leader McConnell made the decision not to force the Biden administration, which is lawless, to secure the border,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a McConnell antagonist who opposes the border deal.

Democrats were seething after the Republicans’ meeting last night. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of his party’s leadership, said he was “just gobsmacked,” adding: “I’ve never seen anything like it. They literally demanded specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”

“On life support” may be charitable. In another story a little over an hour following this one, Semafor added this:

Barely a day after it was unveiled, some Republican senators were already saying last rites for the chamber’s bipartisan border bill. “I think this proposal is dead,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. told Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig as he departed a conference meeting Monday night. While not every GOP lawmaker is declaring the bill DOA, the measure has garnered little firm support in the face of an intense conservative backlash, and Republicans look ready to block an initial procedural vote to advance the bill currently scheduled for Wednesday. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has vocally backed the deal, told members they should feel free to vote against moving it forward so that lawmakers would have more time to review the legislation and offer amendments, according to a person briefed on the discussion. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also told reporters that he expected Wednesday’s vote would fail to break a filibuster. “We can’t rush this right now,” said the deal’s chief Republican negotiator. “If we’re going to actually move this bill, you gotta have more time to be able to look at it than three days.” The one bit of good news for the legislation: It picked up a key endorsement from the main Border Patrol union.

If it’s not dead yet, it’s going down fast. Given the opposition of the Senate GOP caucus as well as GOP House leadership, the pulling of the plug may be a ceremonial function.

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