". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Republicans Go to the Mat to Link Ukraine Aid with Serious Border Reforms

December 5, 2023

There may not be snow on the Hill, but there’s definitely a legislative flurry. Without a government shutdown to keep the two parties at each other’s throats this December, leaders have settled on another ticking time bomb: foreign aid. With packages for Ukraine and Israel on ice until Congress reaches some sort of agreement, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has the unenviable job of keeping his fragile coalition together. “The analogy is frequently invoked of herding cats,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said of the new speaker. “And in some ways, that’s not fair to the cats.”

One of the issues gumming up talks is the GOP’s insistence that Ukraine funding — which is starting to sag in popularity — be tied to meaningful reforms on the southern border. “We’re not going to try to secure other countries and not secure ours,” Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) has said. “For three years we’ve been saying: ‘When are we going to secure the country? When are we going to do this?’ And every year it’s gotten worse. ... And the volume has reached loud enough that we’re saying, ‘Time out; we’ve got to be able to secure our own country while we’re working for the security of others.’”

Democrats like Senator Chris Coons (Conn.), who’s leading his chamber’s negotiations with Lankford, called the GOP’s insistence to link the two issues “really unfortunate.” But in a nod to Speaker Johnson’s newfound leverage on the issue, admitted, “I’m listening to my Republican colleagues.”

He may be the only one. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already called the idea a “nonstarter,” while his party’s lieutenants are rumored to have walked out of talks late last week in disgust. “We have not been negotiating since Friday,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters. “We won’t start negotiating again until Republicans actually decide they’re ready to meet in the middle,” he said.

But “meeting in the middle” isn’t part of the GOP’s plan, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) insisted. “I think there’s a misunderstanding on the part of Senator Schumer and some of our Democratic friends. This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.”

It’s not a matter of abandoning Ukraine, as Johnson himself has said. “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to march through Europe, and we understand the necessity of assisting there,” he explained. But, “The Biden administration has failed to substantively address any of my conference’s legitimate concerns about the lack of a clear strategy in Ukraine, a path to resolving the conflict, or a plan for adequately ensuring accountability for aid provided by American taxpayers,” Johnson said in a statement. “Meanwhile, the Administration is continually ignoring the catastrophe at our own border. House Republicans have resolved that any national security supplemental package must begin with our own border.”

To tug on senators’ heartstrings, Schumer arranged for President Volodymyr Zelensky to appeal to the chamber himself in an afternoon video call. But leading up to the call (which was canceled at the last minute), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated that Republicans have been “crystal clear” that “serious policy changes” are necessary on the border before his party writes another $61 billion dollar check to Ukraine. “Apparently, some of our colleagues aren’t ready to take that really seriously.”

Congressman Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) thinks that’s because President Biden’s party has a goal of “destroy[ing] this country.” “They’re openly Marxist,” he argued on “Washington Watch” Monday. “To say we need border security is like saying we need oxygen and clean water. It’s a foregone conclusion. The American public realizes it. And I think they realize [the Left is] just trying to stack the deck against America by allowing all these illegals in.”

They have gambled, Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) warned Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, that “every illegal immigrant will become a voter someday. It’s all starting to fall apart.”

Like many conservatives, Perkins is wary of the Democrats’ urgency on the issue. “Anything that the Biden administration and the Left embraces, I’m skeptical of. And, you know, they have never been strong on national security and the military. But now all of a sudden, they want [to give even more money to] Ukraine. … And they’re saying, ‘We’ve got to do this now. We don’t have time to address the border.’ But I mean, just thinking [about] it from a logical standpoint, our open border on the south, our southern border, is putting this nation and our future at risk. How are we going to help anybody if we’re no longer here?”

Another red flag in many people’s minds, Burchett pointed out, is that America has given “$114 billion unchecked dollars to one of the most corrupt, corrupt nations in Europe.” And while conservatives aren’t opposed to helping Ukraine, Perkins said, it’s understandable that “they’d like to know where the money is going. And they would like to know what the game plan is.”

“I’m one of those standing in line waiting for that answer,” Burchett replied. “…They pitched a fit when we talked about some serious accounting on this stuff. And we still don’t really have it. … [So] let us look at the numbers, and we’ll make a decision then.”

As for the border, Burchett is tired of Americans harping on Congress to do something. “People are saying, ‘Well, why aren’t you [dealing with] this?’ Well, we [in the House] already did it. We already have voted for border security. Chuck Schumer refused to [act] …” In the meantime, he said, suspects are streaming into the country from the terror watch list. “I think we could be in for a big surprise if we’re not careful. And it would be a very dangerous situation for this country.”

We need to go back to what worked under the Trump administration, Braun insisted, pointing to policies like Remain in Mexico. “We were down to a record low [in] crossings. There wasn’t even a category called ‘gotaways’ then.” And even though Speaker Johnson is “wrestling with a very thin margin,” the Indiana senator said, Republicans are flexing their muscle on an issue of real importance. “And by the way,” he wanted people to know, “if it wasn’t for Speaker Johnson and the crew of the [House] Freedom Caucus members over there, none of this would be occurring in terms of coalescing around it coming from the House.” Under the new speaker, “the dynamic has changed,” he pointed out. “I’ve never seen leadership be commandeered by a real conservative issue like securing the border.”

“Hopefully,” Braun said, “Johnson will hold firm. Hopefully, we will do what our caucus said [and not] … end debate until we get that substantive border reform. We’ll see.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.