Senate GOP Spends Super Bowl Sunday Sacking House Plans for Border Reform
If anything was more unpredictable than the Chiefs game, it was the Senate in overtime. A Sunday in session is rare for the upper chamber, but a Sunday session on the biggest football day of the year? That’s unheard of. And while Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised to wheel in TVs and stacks of pizzas, most Americans probably wished they’d stayed home and done nothing once they heard the Democrats’ playbook: an end-run on Ukraine funding — without any border reforms.
Before the two teams took the field, Democrats were busy intercepting the GOP’s plans to tie $95 billion in Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine aid to substantive changes at our southern border. And to the surprise and frustration of conservatives, plenty of Republicans joined them. By a vote of 67-27, Schumer jumped another hurdle to his goal of sending a completely unacceptable bill to House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) House. By Tuesday's pre-sunrise vote, four more Republicans had jumped on the borderless bandwagon.
“We don’t have $100 billion to give to anyone,” an irritated Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pointed out. And yet, not only are these 22 Republicans okay with digging our financial hole deeper, they’re also fine with surrendering whatever leverage the GOP has to fix our exploding illegal immigration crisis. Together with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senators John Boozman (Ark.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), John Hoeven (N.D.), James Risch (N.D.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), John Thune (S.D.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Todd Young (Ind.), Mitt Romney (Utah), Joni Ernst (Iowa), John Kennedy (La.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), and Jerry Moran (Kan.) all inexplicably decided to give Schumer his way, completely ignoring the bargaining power of the Republican House.
It’s “an immoral play,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) argued ahead of the vote on Friday’s “Washington Watch.” “I think that anti-American Democrats really want to keep our border open and send our money elsewhere. And so when you look at it … [t]he best thing that Mike Johnson did as speaker was to pass an Israel funding supplemental and make sure we could pay for it — to find money somewhere else in the budget to pay for that without having to borrow it.” In the meantime, he told guest host and former House colleague Jody Hice, “we have got to say, no more money. … No more money for this wayward, lawless administration until they actually enforce our own laws.” Frankly, Biggs insisted, we don’t need another border policy. “What we need is enforcement [of the policy that] already exists.”
The decision by Republicans to help boost the package infuriated Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who went so far as to say it should be curtains for Leader McConnell. He should step down, the conservative stalwart argued. “Look,” he told Fox News on Sunday, “Republican senators are not part of some feudal system. … We’re each representing our own states. And in occasion after occasion, bill after bill, we have seen Senate Republican leadership joining ranks with all or most Democrats, sharply dividing Republicans, actively alienating most Republican voters, and taking a different position than most Republican senators in order to enact Democratic priorities. … This is how we lose elections that should be won.”
It’s not “personal,” Lee said of McConnell. “But if we keep doing things through our leadership that end up enacting priorities for the Democrats, we’re going to have brand confusion. And the voters who we need to show up to vote for Republican candidates in Senate races all over the country are going to be less likely to do that if they can’t tell which team is responsible for what policy.”
Not to mention that Americans of all political stripes are demanding that Congress step up and act. The flood of migrants crossing into the country illegally is now the top concern of voters — edging out even inflation and our crumbling economy. And who do they trust most with fixing it? The Republican Party, surveys say. So why on earth, Hice wondered, would the GOP waste this opportunity?
“That’s the big question,” Biggs agreed. Obviously, “they don’t understand when they do have leverage,” he shook his head. “I can’t explain their motivations. All I can say is that they failed on that.”
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was equally puzzled by the GOP's actions on Monday's "Washington Watch." This is an opportunity that McConnell "blew," he insisted. "The only leverage we had was Ukraine, but that now that is basically been frittered away under the incredibly stupid negotiating strategy in secret. ... When the American people support us in trying to secure the border, it makes no sense. It's a political debacle."
As for Speaker Johnson, he made his opinion crystal clear in comments slamming the bipartisan push Monday night. “The mandate of national security supplemental legislation was to secure America’s own border before sending additional foreign aid around the world. It is what the American people demand and deserve. Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters. America deserves better than the Senate's status quo.”
Even with the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the House, there’s enough public pressure on the White House and congressional Democrats to force Schumer’s hand on the border. And yet, some of these same Republicans also refused to defend the party platform on marriage or fought against Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on life, so we shouldn’t be totally surprised by their willingness to bail out Biden on Ukraine.
“It’s amazing to see some Senate Republicans take such a strong stand on something,” Family Research Council’s Quena Gonzalez told The Washington Stand. “I just wish they’d fight for marriage the way they fight to send money overseas.”
Meanwhile, FRC President Tony Perkins pointed out, where’s the logic in this for either party? “Why should we give money to protect another country when we won’t protect our own?” he asked. “It’s an open secret that there are terrorist cells all over this country who’ve come in through our open border, so I think for a senator to undermine the leverage of the House speaker, who is trying to secure our border before we give money to anyone else is outrageous,” he said to TWS. “We’ve got to help America first or we won’t be here to help anyone else.”
He compared it to flying on an airplane when the oxygen masks drop. We’re always instructed to “put your own mask on first, then help someone else.” “It’s the same thing with our border,” he urged. “We have to secure our own country, our own future, before reaching out to anyone else.”
So what happens now that the Senate has managed to pass the bill ? “It’s going to then come over to the House,” Biggs predicted, and conservatives are going to argue that “you can’t do these things as one big honking bill, which is what they’re trying to do. You’re going to have to keep them separate, and you’re going to have to try to find ways to pay for these things, because we owe so much money already.” And let’s not forget, he pointed out, Ukraine still has a “corruption problem,” so none of these billions of dollars will be accounted for. “So where does that money go once they get it there?” he demanded to know.
For now, Senator Paul advised, conservatives need to “beat the crap out of [the bill’s supporters] for being for someone else’s border and not our own.” And at the end of it, he said, “We’ll see where the cards lay.”
This story has been updated to include the final Senate roll call (2/13/24 at 9:56 a.m.).
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.