Senate nears bipartisan border deal that Trump calls 'disaster'
Republican Sen. James Lankford shot back at GOP critics.
Senate negotiators are racing to put the finishing touches on a national security spending bill they hope can simultaneously fund Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and offer legislative solutions to slow the surge of migrants at the southern border. Yet fresh criticism Monday from former President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders threatened to derail the efforts that the White House is accusing them of treating like a "political football."
Trump on Monday said that "a border bill is not necessary," blasting the ongoing negotiations.
"They are using this horrific Senate Bill as a way of being able to put the BORDER DISASTER onto the shoulders of the Republicans. The Democrats BROKE THE BORDER, they should fix it," Trump posted on his social media network.
On Saturday, at a campaign rally in Nevada, the Republican presidential front-runner seemed to gloat about his efforts to kill the bill.
"As the leader of our party there is zero chance I will support this horrible open borders betrayal of America. It's not going to happen," Trump said. "I notice a lot of the Senators are trying to say -- respectfully they are blaming it on me, I say that's OK please blame it on me, please, because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill."
As Trump has become more and more forceful in opposition to the bill, many congressional Republicans have fallen in line behind him -- even though they haven't even seen the bill. Some Republicans have made clear they don't want to give Biden a political win in the run-up to the November election.
"Biden people admit they don't want to secure the border. What they want is bipartisan support for a Senate bill they know is dead in House & that he will never enforce anyways," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., posted on X. "Then he can both keep the border open AND blame House GOP for it."
According to sources, the deal, worked out by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., would require the Department of Homeland Security to nearly shut down the border if migrant crossings increase above 5,000 per day on any given week or if average daily encounters reach a 4,000-a-day threshold in a one-week span.
But some sources familiar with negotiations refute that the bill would allow thousands of migrants into the country each day. The number that triggers the border to shut, one source familiar with the bill said, is based on capacity. When there's no longer capacity within the county to detain migrants, the authority to shut the border down would be triggered. The authority remains in place until crossings reduce to 75 percent of the trigger number.
Lankford appeared on Fox News on Sunday to defend the package against attacks from his colleagues and clarify the migrant-crossing numbers. He called the assertion from some Republicans that the bill would allow 5,000 illegal crossings a day "the most misunderstood section of this proposal."
"They're still waiting to be able to read the bill on this. And this has been our great challenge of being able to fight through the final words, to be able to get the bill text out so people can hear it," Lankford said on Fox News Sunday. "Right now there's internet rumors is all that people are running on. It would be absolutely absurd for me to agree to 5,000 people a day. This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There's no amnesty."
Still, Lankford acknowledged the shifting political realities that make passing the bill a steeper uphill climb.
"It is interesting, Republicans, four months ago, would not give funding for Ukraine, for Israel and for our southern border because we demanded changes in policy. So, we actually locked arms together and said, 'We're not going to give money for this. We want a change in law,'" Lankford said.
"And now, it's interesting, a few months later, when we're finally getting to the end, they're like, 'Oh, just kidding, I actually don't want a change in law because of presidential election year,'" he added.
Even if the bill passes in the Senate, House Speaker Mike Johnson, who regularly talks with Trump, has said the deal appears "dead on arrival" in the House.
On Saturday, Johnson drew even further away from the bipartisan bill while responding to President Joe Biden, who said in a statement Friday that he would use new authorities granted in the bipartisan bill to "shut down the border" on "the day I sign the bill into law."
"President Biden falsely claimed yesterday he needs Congress to pass a new law to allow him to close the southern border, but he knows that is untrue," Johnson said in a statement. "According to reports, the Senate's pending proposal would expressly allow as many as 150,000 illegal crossings each month (1.8 million per year) before any new 'shutdown' authority could be used. At that point, America will have already surrendered."
During the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused Johnson of making the bipartisan Senate border negotiations a "political football," arguing that the deal would take action at the border and "is exactly what [House Republicans have] been asking for."
"The speaker seems to want to make this a political, a political football, right? It's like a hot potato. They don't want to hold on to it," Jean-Pierre said.
The bipartisan bill, as drafted, would give Biden and any future president greater authority to regulate the border, though many Republicans insist that Biden is currently failing to utilize authorities he's already granted.
On Monday, Jean-Pierre said the deal being discussed includes new "enforcement tools" that do not currently exist.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will ultimately have to help navigate the bill. A staunch advocate of Ukraine aid, McConnell's support was a key component in tying the border package to funds for Ukraine in the first place. Waning support for the border package could very well jeopardize future aid to Ukraine as well.
Republicans advocates of the bill have long maintained they need a strong bipartisan showing to pass this bill to the House with any hope of passage.
McConnell faces a challenge to see if he can move forward without majority support from Senate Republicans. Presently, it's unclear if the legislation can even get the 60 votes it'll need to clear the chamber, as some progressive Democrats are likely to oppose it as well.
It's not yet clear exactly if or how the border legislation may move through the chamber once it's eventually released.
ABC News' Lalee Ibssa, Soorin Kim and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.
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