Senate Democrats revive bipartisan border security bill as GOP vows to block it again

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By Sahil Kapur, Scott Wong and Frank Thorp V

    WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats plan to force a vote Thursday on the bipartisan border security package that Republicans blocked this year, an attempt to flip the script on immigration politics, a major vulnerability for President Joe Biden.

    The legislation, negotiated by Republican and Democratic senators, is designed to reduce border crossings, raise the bar for migrants to qualify for asylum and quickly turn away those who fail to meet it. It empowers the president to shut down the border if certain triggers are met. If it becomes law, it would be the most sweeping set of migration restrictions in decades. Biden has endorsed the bill.

    But former President Donald Trump helped kill the legislation earlier this year and Republicans say they will block it again.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., notified members on the floor about the Thursday vote, calling it "the strongest, most comprehensive border security bill we've seen in a generation."

    “This week, Republicans will get another chance to do the right thing,” Schumer said Monday. “Most people agree the status quo cannot continue. Our southern border is in desperate need of more resources, and our immigration system is in serious need of repair.”

    “All those who say we need to act on the border will get a chance this week to show they’re serious — serious — about fixing the border,” Schumer added. “We’re going to need bipartisan support if there’s any hope of getting this bill done.”

    It will require 60 votes to advance and is expected to fail because of overwhelming Republican opposition.

    Bringing the bipartisan bill back to the floor is part of Democrats' broader election year strategy to go on the offense on immigration — an issue that has vexed the party in past cycles. In recent weeks, key Biden administration officials and top Democratic lawmakers have discussed holding votes on bills that the GOP would oppose and weighed various executive actions that Biden could take. This month, the administration proposed a new rule to accelerate the asylum process.

    Republicans are vowing to filibuster the legislation — as they've done before — dismissing the vote as a political messaging exercise less than six months before the November election. Even Sen. James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who negotiated the original border package with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., is vowing to vote no.

    “It’s trying to score political points rather than actually trying to solve a problem,” Lankford told reporters. “There’s been no attempt to sit down and say, ‘OK, what went sideways last time? Let’s figure this out.'"

    Schumer has said GOP opposition to the bill proves that the party doesn't care about securing the border and is instead trying to preserve the issue as a political weapon for Trump to use in the 2024 election. Trump has made immigration and the overwhelmed border a centerpiece of his run, vowing a crackdown.

    The impasse over immigration reform is nothing new, and the blame game over competing House and Senate proposals has been raging for months. In February, after Murphy, Lankford and Sinema announced their landmark immigration deal, Schumer packaged it with critical aid for foreign allies, including Ukraine and Israel, and tried to push it through the upper chamber.

    The Senate split evenly over whether to advance the national security and border package, falling far short of the 60 required to break a filibuster. Just four Republicans voted for it. And four Democrats defected, with Schumer switching sides for procedural reasons so that he could bring the bill up again. The final vote was 49-51.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who helped craft the deal and signed off on it, ended up voting against it in February after it became clear that most Republicans would reject it.

    At the time, the border bill was packaged with billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel. Republicans had initially demanded tougher asylum and border laws as a condition for supporting the foreign aid, but they eventually agreed to pass the Ukraine and Israel measures in a standalone bill.

    The Senate will first vote this week on a procedural motion to advance the border package as a standalone bill under the 60-vote threshold.

    Though it is unlikely to make it to the House, Speaker Mike Johnson’s GOP leadership team issued a scathing joint statement, arguing that the Senate vote is an unserious effort to secure the border. They urged Schumer to put the tougher, House-passed border bill, known as HR 2, on the Senate floor instead, though it lacks any Democratic support.

    “Leader Schumer is trying give his vulnerable members cover by bringing a vote on a bill which has already failed once in the Senate because it would actually codify many of the disastrous Biden open border policies that created this crisis in the first place,” the GOP leaders said. “Should it reach the House, the bill would be dead on arrival.”

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