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June 17, 2024

Senate Republicans block border security bill as they campaign on border chaos

Senate Republicans block border security bill as they campaign on border chaos

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats failed to advance a bipartisan border security bill Thursday, with nearly every Republican voting to filibuster it as Donald Trump wields border chaos as a centerpiece of his campaign against President Joe Biden.

Immigrants at U.S.-Mexico border wall after they crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas on Feb. 1, 2024. John Moore / Getty Images

The vote was 43-50, falling short of the 60 needed to proceed. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only GOP senator to vote to advance the bill Thursday, while six Democrats voted with the remaining Republican senators to block it.

The vote caps a peculiar sequence of events after Senate Republican leaders insisted on a border security agreement last year and signed off on a compromise bill before they knifed it. Democrats, wary of their political vulnerability when it comes to migration, had acceded to a variety of GOP demands to raise the bar for asylum-seekers and tighten border controls. Trump pressured GOP lawmakers to kill any deal that wasn’t “perfect,” and he succeeded.

The vote, while it had been expected to end in failure, was brought up to put Republicans on record in opposition to the bipartisan compromise.

“Trump told his MAGA allies to kill it in its tracks so he could exploit the issue on the campaign trail,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters after the vote. “And Senate Republicans blindly and loyally followed suit.”

But the vote was also an opportunity for politically endangered Democrats to try to demonstrate they’re willing to get tough on immigration.

“This commonsense bill would push back on the Biden Administration’s failed border policies by forcing the President to shut down the border, strengthen our asylum laws, and end catch and release. It is shameful that Mitch McConnell and D.C. politicians would rather keep the border as a political talking point than actually fix the problem,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who faces a difficult re-election battle in a red state, said in a statement.

His fellow Montanan, Republican Sen. Steve Daines, is the chair of the campaign arm seeking to capture the Senate majority for the GOP this fall by defeating Tester and others. Daines called the vote a “political stunt” by Democrats.

The legislation was negotiated by James Lankford, R-Okla., whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., designated to lead the talks. He cut a deal with Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., that McConnell and Schumer signed off on. But Republicans immediately came out against it, causing McConnell to change his position. Initially, the border provisions had been set to be attached to funding for Ukraine and Israel, but Congress passed those aid measures separately.

The Biden-backed compromise bill was crafted to reduce border crossings, raise the standard for migrants to qualify for asylum and empower officials to rapidly send away those who fail to meet that standard. It would give the president power to shut down the border if migration levels exceed certain thresholds. On the brink of its release earlier this year, Lankford told NBC News it was “by far the most conservative border security bill in four decades.”

He voted against it Thursday, as did Sinema, with Lankford calling it a stunt vote.

He said the chances of getting a border security solution this year are “pretty slim.” “At this point, no one really seems to want to have serious conversation on it,” he said.

Even had it passed the Senate, GOP leaders have made it clear that the bill would be dead on arrival in the House.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who faces re-election this fall, claimed that the bill was “designed to fail.”

“In fact, we can quantify mathematically the chances this bill has a passing the House of Representatives. And those chances are 0.00%,” Cruz said on the Senate floor. “Instead, the Democrats deliberately want this border crisis to continue.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said Thursday that Congress should pass the GOP’s more aggressive immigration bill, known as H.R.2., which was crafted on a partisan basis and lacks Democratic buy-in.

“After more than three years of claiming the situation at our southern border was not a crisis while millions of illegals poured in, Congressional Democrats are attempting to throw an election year Hail Mary to cover for their embrace of President Biden’s open border policies,” Johnson said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., criticized Republicans for trying to “weaponize the issue politically” rather than fix the problems at the border.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans are not serious about addressing the challenges that clearly exist at the border, which is why they detonated their own legislation,” he said. “Democrats are going to continue to be reasonable, responsible and results-oriented. … Unfortunately, the Republicans appear as though they want to continue to lean into chaos, dysfunction, and extremism. And if that keeps up, I think they will pay a price in November.”

Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.

Kate Santaliz

Kate Santaliz is an associate producer for NBC News’ Capitol Hill team.

Syedah Asghar



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