Senators unveil border deal and foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel ahead of key vote

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CNN
 — 

Senators unveiled a long-awaited border deal and foreign aid package with assistance for Ukraine and Israel on Sunday, paving the way for a key vote in the chamber this week in which the legislation is at risk of failing and, if it does pass, setting up a clash with the House.

The deal aims to empower the US to significantly restrict illegal migrant crossings at the southern border. If passed, it would dramatically change immigration law for the first time in decades.

The full legislative package has a topline of $118.2 billion. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill includes $60 billion to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel, and $20.23 billion for operational needs and capabilities at the border and to provide resources for new border policies – an amount that rises above the $14 billion President Joe Biden initially requested for border security.

The border deal has placed one of the most vexing political issues at the center of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda and forced him to take a tougher stance on an issue that has been a liability ahead of November.

The compromise would implement strict limits along the US southern border that have not been previously enshrined into law and would, in effect, severely curtail asylum at the US-Mexico border, a break with decades-long protocol.

It’s the product of months of bipartisan negotiations with a trio of senators – Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans. But former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson have attacked the border deal as too weak, and their opposition threatens to derail the legislation, which includes aid to Ukraine and Israel at a critical time as the two US allies are embroiled in wars.

If Congress is unable to pass the legislative package, lawmakers will have to decide whether to try to pass aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan separately from border and immigration measures.

Johnson announced Saturday that the House will vote this week on a standalone bill providing aid for Israel. The Louisiana Republican called on the Senate to take up that bill swiftly, ratcheting up pressure on senators to abandon their efforts to keep Israel aid linked with other issues.

It’s unclear whether a foreign aid package would be able to pass on its own as many Senate Republicans have demanded tighter border security in exchange for aid to those allies.

The Senate is expected to hold a key test vote on the package no later than Wednesday, but that initial vote – on whether to begin debate – would require 60 votes to pass, and it’s unclear whether there will be sufficient support to clear the hurdle.

Republican senators risk defying Trump if they vote in favor and may be even more reluctant to do so now that Johnson has signaled the package would be dead on arrival in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the agreement “a monumental step towards strengthening America’s national security abroad and along our border.”

“The priorities in this bill are too important to ignore and too vital to allow politics to get in the way,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

Senate GOP Whip John Thune was noncommittal last week when asked whether there will be enough support from Senate Republicans to overcome Trump’s opposition.

“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Thune, the GOP’s chief vote counter, told CNN’s Manu Raju.

Thune argued that “there’s a lot of really good conservative border policy” in the deal, but he also noted, “It’s become a target … and in the end you want to make law.”

In recent weeks, Trump has been lobbying Republicans both in private and public to oppose the deal, according to GOP sources familiar with the conversations – in part because he wants to campaign on the issue and doesn’t want Biden to score a victory in an area where he is politically vulnerable.

In contrast, Biden has endorsed the border deal, saying in a statement at the end of last month that it would give him as president “a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed,” and vowing to use that authority immediately if the bill becomes law. Biden’s embrace of tougher border measures comes as he attempts to fend off Trump’s attacks over immigration policy ahead of the election, but risks putting the president at odds with progressive allies.

The deal will grant the Department of Homeland Security new emergency authority to clamp down on border crossings if daily average migrant encounters reach 4,000 over a one-week span. Once the authority is triggered, the DHS secretary could decide to largely bar migrants from seeking asylum if they crossed the border unlawfully.

If migrant crossings increased above 5,000 on average per day on a given week, DHS would be required to use the authority. The authority sunsets after three years.

Migrants could still seek asylum at a port of entry. The bill would codify a process that requires the government to process 1,400 asylum applications at ports of entry, while also raising the standard for asylum and expediting the process.

Those who didn’t qualify for asylum will be swiftly deported.

Taken together, the Senate deal aims to speed up the asylum process to consider cases within six months — compared with the current system, under which it can take up to 10 years for asylum seekers. It would also make it more difficult for migrants to prove they’re eligible for asylum.

It’s unlikely that the deal could take immediate effect even if it were to pass, as it would require immense resources, including the hiring of additional personnel, which often takes months.

As the deal has come under attack on the far right, Senate negotiators have attempted to dispel what they say are misrepresentations of the agreement. Conservatives have argued the Senate’s package would allow thousands of migrants to enter the US every day – a line of attack negotiators have pushed back.

“We believe that by quickly implementing this system, individuals who come for economic reasons will learn very quickly that this is not a path to enter our country and will not take the sometimes dangerous or treacherous trek to our border,” Sinema, who has lived her life close to the Mexican border, said on CBS on Sunday.

Lankford has also rejected claims that the deal would give blanket permission for migrants to enter the United States and said the bill is not a “betrayal” as Trump has told supporters.

Trump, meanwhile, has argued that Republicans should not accept any kind of compromise and that a bill is not necessary, while Johnson has railed against the deal.

At a recent news conference, Johnson denied pushing to kill the Senate border deal to help Trump on the campaign trail, but the speaker said he has spoken to Trump “at length.”

“I have talked to former President Trump about this issue at length and he understands that we have a responsibility to do here,” Johnson told CNN.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Manu Raju and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report. 

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