Politics

McConnell dispels doubts about his commitment to a border-Ukraine deal

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a private meeting Thursday that he still supports a border security deal linked to Ukraine aid, according to GOP senators who attended — delivering a crucial boost to talks that are getting more complicated by the minute.

McConnell has spent the past few months singularly focused on getting billions of new dollars to Ukraine, so normally such a pledge would not be earth-shaking. Yet some Republicans woke up Thursday wondering if their bid to link stricter immigration policy to foreign aid was still viable, after McConnell on Wednesday delivered a candid assessment of the challenges posed by former President Donald Trump’s dominance in the presidential primary.

At the tail end of the Senate GOP’s last meeting of the week, however, McConnell removed any doubts: He is still forcefully pushing a deal that would pair new border and immigration restrictions with money for Ukraine. It’s a critical piece of McConnell’s legacy — and the GOP leader isn’t letting go at this late stage in the game.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), a Ukraine aid skeptic, said McConnell’s comments on Wednesday had somehow gotten “flipped around” and a day later “he just tried to get it straight … some of the senators came out and got kind of misconstrued on what he was talking about.”

“For me it was certainly clarifying … He made clear that he has been supportive of Senator Lankford’s negotiating efforts and that we should be supportive of any work product that leads to greater border security,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said.

Still, McConnell is clearly at an inflection point with his own party. He has no working relationship with Trump, who is racking up endorsements from GOP leaders and consulting with Speaker Mike Johnson on how to handle any border deal that may emerge from the Senate.

Many of McConnell’s own members are Ukraine funding critics, and Johnson counts many more skeptics in the House GOP. Yet McConnell is clearly determined to keep maneuvering toward a politically feasible compromise to boost Kyiv’s fight against Russia, which stands to serve as the capstone to his record-setting leadership of the Senate GOP.

“Sen. McConnell has not changed his point of view,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). McConnell’s remarks on Wednesday amounted to dispassionate analysis, Wicker explained: “And I don’t think anybody disagreed with him. We are at a particular set of crossroads and intersections.”

McConnell reminded Republicans on Wednesday of Trump’s desire to avoid any dealmaking on the border before the election. That in itself is a change from when Trump, during his presidency, asked congressional Republicans for some of the same new border restrictions that are now on the table — asylum reform and expulsion authority.

McConnell’s allies insist immigration policy changes now would help any incoming president, whether it’s Trump or someone else. But conservatives and Trump allies believe a border deal might help President Joe Biden win reelection, giving the incumbent a reason to tout progress on an issue where the GOP has an advantage with voters.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the party’s lead negotiator on a border deal, said he’s sure McConnell still supports his work and described the confusion over Wednesday’s meeting as a “momentary drama.”

Still, there’s no doubt that conservatives are gearing up to try and kill any deal, using their own sway and potentially Trump’s massive heft in the party. Yet Republicans on Thursday left Washington with the view that McConnell is ready to confront both challenges.

“The ambiguity that was around for the last few hours has been clarified for all of us. He’s fully behind the border bill, fully behind the support for Ukraine and is not going to let political considerations of any campaign stand in the way of his support,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

While public release of text for the deal could clear up much of the whispers that have grown louder about what will and won’t be included, Lankford said that the details are still not quite ready yet. Negotiators had hoped to start voting on the measure this week, but they now say the finite deals remain in flux at the Appropriations Committee.

“Certainly not weeks, but we’re hoping it’s days to try to get it out. But it’s not today,” Lankford said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a private meeting Thursday that he still supports a border security deal linked to Ukraine aid, according to GOP senators who attended — delivering a crucial boost to talks that are getting more complicated by the minute.
McConnell has spent the past few months singularly focused on getting billions of new dollars to Ukraine, so normally such a pledge would not be earth-shaking. Yet some Republicans woke up Thursday wondering if their bid to link stricter immigration policy to foreign aid was still viable, after McConnell on Wednesday delivered a candid assessment of the challenges posed by former President Donald Trump’s dominance in the presidential primary.
At the tail end of the Senate GOP’s last meeting of the week, however, McConnell removed any doubts: He is still forcefully pushing a deal that would pair new border and immigration restrictions with money for Ukraine. It’s a critical piece of McConnell’s legacy — and the GOP leader isn’t letting go at this late stage in the game.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), a Ukraine aid skeptic, said McConnell’s comments on Wednesday had somehow gotten “flipped around” and a day later “he just tried to get it straight … some of the senators came out and got kind of misconstrued on what he was talking about.”
“For me it was certainly clarifying … He made clear that he has been supportive of Senator Lankford’s negotiating efforts and that we should be supportive of any work product that leads to greater border security,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said.
Still, McConnell is clearly at an inflection point with his own party. He has no working relationship with Trump, who is racking up endorsements from GOP leaders and consulting with Speaker Mike Johnson on how to handle any border deal that may emerge from the Senate.
Many of McConnell’s own members are Ukraine funding critics, and Johnson counts many more skeptics in the House GOP. Yet McConnell is clearly determined to keep maneuvering toward a politically feasible compromise to boost Kyiv’s fight against Russia, which stands to serve as the capstone to his record-setting leadership of the Senate GOP.
“Sen. McConnell has not changed his point of view,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). McConnell’s remarks on Wednesday amounted to dispassionate analysis, Wicker explained: “And I don’t think anybody disagreed with him. We are at a particular set of crossroads and intersections.”
McConnell reminded Republicans on Wednesday of Trump’s desire to avoid any dealmaking on the border before the election. That in itself is a change from when Trump, during his presidency, asked congressional Republicans for some of the same new border restrictions that are now on the table — asylum reform and expulsion authority.
McConnell’s allies insist immigration policy changes now would help any incoming president, whether it’s Trump or someone else. But conservatives and Trump allies believe a border deal might help President Joe Biden win reelection, giving the incumbent a reason to tout progress on an issue where the GOP has an advantage with voters.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the party’s lead negotiator on a border deal, said he’s sure McConnell still supports his work and described the confusion over Wednesday’s meeting as a “momentary drama.”
Still, there’s no doubt that conservatives are gearing up to try and kill any deal, using their own sway and potentially Trump’s massive heft in the party. Yet Republicans on Thursday left Washington with the view that McConnell is ready to confront both challenges.
“The ambiguity that was around for the last few hours has been clarified for all of us. He’s fully behind the border bill, fully behind the support for Ukraine and is not going to let political considerations of any campaign stand in the way of his support,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
While public release of text for the deal could clear up much of the whispers that have grown louder about what will and won’t be included, Lankford said that the details are still not quite ready yet. Negotiators had hoped to start voting on the measure this week, but they now say the finite deals remain in flux at the Appropriations Committee.
“Certainly not weeks, but we’re hoping it’s days to try to get it out. But it’s not today,” Lankford said.  

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