A bargain in which southern border security would be beefed up in exchange for foreign aid is looking increasingly unlikely
The prospects for the US Congress approving new aid to Ukraine as well as military assistance to Israel worsened on Friday after the Republican speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, said he was unlikely to support a deal under negotiation in the Senate that is considered crucial to unlocking the funds.
A bipartisan group of senators have for weeks been looking for an agreement to implement stricter immigration policies and curtail migrant arrivals at the southern border with Mexico, which have surged during Joe Biden’s presidency. Republicans have named passing that legislation as their price for approving aid to Ukraine, whose cause rightwing lawmakers have soured on as the war has dragged on and Donald Trump, who has been ambivalent about sending arms to Kyiv, draws closer to winning the Republican presidential nomination.
While the precise details of the immigration bargain have yet to be released, Johnson told his Republican colleagues in a letter that “if rumors about the contents of the draft proposal are true, it would have been dead on arrival in the House anyway”.
Underscoring his stridency on the topic, Johnson reiterated his demand that the Democratic-controlled Senate vote on the Secure the Border Act, a hardline proposal that would essentially resurrect Trump’s immigration policy by restarting construction of a wall on the border with Mexico and forcing asylum seekers to wait in that country while their claim is processed.
He also announced the chamber would move ahead with its plan to impeach the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, whom Republicans have accused of mishandling border security.
“When we return next week, by necessity, the House Homeland Security Committee will move forward with Articles of Impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas. A vote on the floor will be held as soon as possible thereafter,” Johnson wrote.
The speaker’s demands cast into further doubt on Congress’s ability to find agreement on reforming the immigration system – which has for decades been one of the most intractable issues in Washington – as well support two countries the Biden administration considers national security priorities. The United States has been the top funder of Kyiv’s defense against the Russian invasion that began in February 2022, and after Hamas’s 7 October terror attack against Israel, Biden argued in an address from the Oval Office that the two country’s causes were linked, and asked Congress to approve aid to both, as well as funds for Taiwan and to further secure the border.
Johnson responded by having House Republicans approve a bill that would fund aid to Israel alone and also cut the Internal Revenue Service’s budget, boosting the federal deficit. Democrats, who control the Senate, have rejected both that measure and the Secure the Border Act, leaving the bipartisan immigration reform negotiations as the last avenue remaining to win approval of Ukraine aid.
Congresses and presidents since the days of George W Bush have tried and failed to reform the US’s system for admitting workers and immigrants. The long odds of the latest negotiations succeeding were underscored on Wednesday when Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, told his lawmakers that because Trump wanted to campaign on immigration reform, he doubted that the party would support any agreement that emerges from the talks.
“We are in a quandary,” McConnell said, according to Punchbowl News. “The politics of this have changed.”
Senators from both parties expressed outrage, with Chris Murphy, the main Democratic negotiator in the talks, saying: “I hope we don’t live in a world today in which one person inside the Republican party holds so much power that they could stop a bipartisan bill to try to give the president additional power at the border to make more sense of our immigration policy.”
The following day, Politico reported that McConnell changed his tone, telling Republicans in a meeting that he still supported the talks. But the damage may well have been done.
The GOP’s control of the House means that Republicans may have the votes to impeach Mayorkas, and, at some point, Biden, whom the party has also opened an inquiry against. But the Senate’s Democratic leaders are almost certain to reject the charges against the homeland security chief, who has used his appearances before Congress to describe the country’s immigration system as “broken” and urge reforms.
On Friday, the top Democrat on the homeland security committee sent a letter to its Republican chair, Mark Green, objecting to the charges against Mayorkas, noting that the House hasn’t voted to approve the impeachment and that Green had reportedly promised donors months ago that he’d go after him.
“Nothing about this sham impeachment has abided by House precedent, but all of it has been done to reach the predetermined outcome you promised your donors last year,” the committee’s ranking member, Bennie Thompson, wrote.