WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans on Monday signaled their plan to filibuster bipartisan legislation that paired tougher border policy with more U.S. aid to Ukraine, a stunning reversal less than 24 hours after the legislation had been unveiled.
With ex-president Donald Trump urging them to kill it, and many on the right up in arms about the proposal, top Senate Republicans emerged from a heated closed-door meeting and said they needed more time to review the agreement, suggesting that a scheduled Wednesday vote to advance the bill is all but doomed to fail.
“I think there’s a very real concern that there hasn’t been adequate time, and I think the Wednesday vote is going to be, for most of our members, too early,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also recommended to his members in the meeting that they should vote to block the package from moving forward, according to Punchbowl News.
The recommendation is particularly stunning given that McConnell had cheered the negotiations over border policy for months. Just hours earlier on the Senate floor, McConnell touted the legislation, saying its billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are needed to counter aggression from dictators and terrorists around the globe.
“The national security legislation we’re preparing to take up will invest heavily in the capabilities and capacity America and our allies need to regain the upper hand over this emerging axis of authoritarians,” McConnell said. “Make no mistake: The gauntlet has been thrown. And America needs to pick it up.”
But the biggest Republican reversal on the bill may be Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who put in months of work to try to come up with a compromise on the border security bill and who, as late as Monday afternoon, had been urging his GOP colleagues to read the bill before offering negative, knee-jerk reactions, to little avail.
After the closed-door meeting Monday evening, when Republicans held a heated discussion, Lankford said he anticipated that Wednesday’s vote to advance the bill would fail. Moreover, he repeatedly declined to say whether he would vote in support of his own bill.
“Why would we force a vote on something that would kill it... versus give it more time and give it the opportunity to be able to be able to go through it?” Lankford told reporters.
He then tried to argue that even if he votes against advancing his own bill this week, that it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he opposes it since it could still come up at a later date.
“Voting against cloture is not, for me, voting against the bill... cloture is, do we get on this and start debating now or do we get on it and debate it later? So it’s not voting against the bill, even though I vote against cloture on Wednesday,” Lankford said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. They literally demanded specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”
It’s clear, though, that most Republicans have no interest in drawing out a debate which has sharply divided their party even further and that they badly want to move on ― even though they were the ones who initially demanded linking border policy changes with the passage of aid to Ukraine. More time isn’t going to change anything, and many in the GOP would like to keep the border issue alive so they can hammer Democrats over immigration policy in the November presidential election.
“Just gobsmacked,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) posted on the X social media platform on Monday. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They literally demanded specific policy, got it, and then killed it.”
It’s not hard to see why the GOP changed its tune. Trump, the front-runner in the Republican presidential contest, blasted the border agreement on Monday, saying that border policy and foreign aid should “not be tied” together “in any way, shape, or form.”
“Only a fool, or a radical left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous border bill,” the former president said on his social media website, Truth Social.
The border deal includes several big conservative wins, allowing the government to more easily expel migrants at the border, restrict claims for parole and make it significantly harder for migrants to claim asylum. It would also automatically shutter the border if illegal crossings reach or climb past a certain average daily threshold.
Progressive lawmakers and Latino Democrats lined up against the bill, calling it inhumane and arguing that it would make the situation on the border worse. The U.S. Border Patrol’s union, an influential voice on the right, meanwhile, endorsed the border bill on Monday, but that did little to sway key Republican senators.
The GOP’s about-face leaves the future of U.S. support for Ukraine, as well as for Israel, is serious jeopardy. The House is expected to vote on a stand-alone aid package for Israel this week, but the White House threatened to veto it on Monday.
“The Administration strongly opposes this ploy which does nothing to secure the border, does nothing to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression, fails to support the security of American synagogues, mosques and vulnerable places of worship, and denies humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, the majority of whom are women and children,” the White House said in a statement.