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Border deal, international aid agreement could take a while

Legislation to secure the border and provide additional aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan may be in the works, but nothing is coming yet.

It is now mid-January. And there is no deal on potential legislation to secure the border.

That also means there is no agreement on an international aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

That is not an indictment. 


It’s just that realists on Capitol Hill knew this was going to take a while – even though negotiators began hammering away at a possible border accord in early December and worked through the holidays.

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The top GOP negotiator in the talks, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., suggested on “Fox News Sunday” last weekend that his aim was to have bill text ready sometime this week.

But that never materialized. Lankford says nothing changed for the worse.

“I think we just didn’t make progress as fast as I’d hoped we would,” said Lankford. “I was thinking, ‘I think we’re close.’ But in all of our meetings [Sunday] night and [Monday] we’re not going to be able to get there.”

A source close to the talks told Fox that negotiators didn’t lose momentum or hit an unexpected pothole.

“There are a thousand small things to work out,” said the source, noting the complexity of the talks.

But there is concern about speed. Fox is told that senators are aware of the need to ship aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Soon. Moreover, there is concern that any struggle with funding the government later this month could undercut everything the sides are trying to do with the border.

“That takes precedent,” said a source about government funding. “That’s a hard deadline.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said Lankford “actually surprised me with some of the progress he has made” on the border deal. Marshall observed that lawmakers have “a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure the border. And if we have that opportunity, if we have a good deal on the table, if we’re getting 80 or 90% of what we want,” than GOPers should take the deal.

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Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said “the amount of progress that the negotiators have made is substantial and encouraging.”

But when Capitol Hill devolved into the Hunter Biden circus Wednesday, few paid close attention to the border talks. Lankford briefed fellow GOP senators and some House members on his negotiations. And the week ended without the production of bill text as the sides wrangled over parole for those illegally entering the U.S.

The lack of bill text may actually help the negotiations. If something is printed to paper on Capitol Hill, the details inevitably spill out. That’s when some lawmakers and interest groups may try to undercut the proposal. So negotiators elected to keep their cards close to the vest. But the lack of specificity make it a challenge to judge progress.

“It’s hard to evaluate because there’s no text,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “There’s nothing written down.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., echoed his colleague.

“It’s not in writing so I can’t be comfortable – and no one can – until they read it,” said Rubio.

The same thing bothered Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo. 

“This has been a very secretive process,” said Schmitt. “I am skeptical that we might be giving up way too much here.”

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But here’s where things stand.

Negotiators worked feverishly since December. They talked repeatedly over the holidays. And now we’re moving into the third week of January without an accord. In the meantime, the war in Israel rages. Ukraine says it’s unable to match Russia’s firepower. China is keeping an eye on Taiwan. Money for Taiwan could become increasingly urgent if China reacts adversely to the election of Lai Ching-te as president of Taiwan. Don’t forget that Republicans insisted on making assistance to Ukraine contingent on a border security pact. So the international aid package languishes while negotiators forge ahead.

This is the type of timeline which yours truly suggested in December. Some thought that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would try to jam members with a floor vote on a border package just before Christmas. That never happened – mostly because the negotiations are real and the sides were making progress. A show vote to score political points would have been counterproductive.

And this is why the true, realistic timeline to finish this legislation was probably February or beyond for the Senate alone. If they are able to finish it at all.

We haven’t even talked about the House. 

Many House Republicans don’t want to touch a still shapeless, hazy measure which is wafting around the Senate. For years, congressional Republicans argued that they needed to reassert their Article I powers vested in the Constitution and legislation – not cede authority to the administration. But since Congress has struggled to craft a legislative solution on border security and immigration, some GOPers are now punting to the White House.

Republicans don’t think President Biden can accomplish much. But now they argue he’s the one to address the border crisis.

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“Joe Biden doesn’t want to fix it. He could do it with his own executive order,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Tex.

But that doesn’t comport with what was the longtime mantra by congressional GOPers, who insisted that the Clinton/Obama/Biden administrations were out of control and needed to be reined in on a host of subjects.

“How did President Trump secure the southern border?” asked Nehls. “He did it through 21 executive orders and 25 presidential memorandums.”

This is why a legislative fix to border security remains so elusive. And it may continue to be so for at least a few more weeks. Nothing of this magnitude on immigration and border security – which has been a radioactive subject for decades – could possibly come together this quickly. And even if there is an agreement, it will likely take a few more weeks to hash out and debate because of a divided Congress and lawmakers who are leery of touching immigration.

But here’s the rub.

Aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is contingent upon a border deal. It’s unclear if lawmakers might unhook the aid package from border security if things grow iffy in any of those locales. Ukraine is where things are the most urgent. And there’s a political risk for some Republicans if things go south in Ukraine. There’s also political peril if Republicans ever decouple international assistance from border security. Hardliners demanding border security first will howl.

So this will take a while. Still.

If it ever gets done at all.

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