House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday was noncommittal about supporting potential legislation that would link billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine with US border security measures — as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed that bipartisan negotiators are getting “closer” to striking an agreement.
Senate Republicans, led by James Lankford of Missouri, are demanding modifications to US immigration laws and the resumption of construction on sections of the US-Mexico border wall as a condition for passing President Biden’s October request for an additional $61.4 billion in wartime funding for Ukraine.
Talks between Lankford, lead Democratic negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Biden administration officials continued through the upper chamber’s holiday break, according to Schumer, who said, “There’s virtually unanimous agreement among Democrats and Republicans” that “we need to fix the border.”
“We’re making progress. We’re closer than we have been,” Schumer told reporters about the ongoing negotiations. “But this is a very difficult issue. And there’s still different things, different issues to be overcome.”
Among the issues are figuring out “how to do it in a way that can get 60 votes here in the Senate and the majority in the House,” the Senate majority leader noted.
For Johnson, the House GOP’s immigration bill passed in May – H.R. 2 – “is the necessary ingredient” for his caucus to consider the deal in the works on the Senate side.
“This is not about sending more money down here,” Johnson, who visited the southern border on Wednesday with a delegation of about 60 House GOP lawmakers, told CNN. “It’s about changing the policy.”
He noted that it’s not just the conservative House Freedom Caucus but “most House Republicans” that are threatening a government shutdown if a suitable immigration deal is not reached – one with teeth that would “seal the border.”
“There’s no draft bill, but I will tell you, I don’t care if they call it H.R. 2. I do care about the provisions that will seal the border,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think now’s the time to do comprehensive immigration reform because to your point, it’s very complicated. It’s very complex to do, but we can seal the border. We could do it overnight. The president has the existing authority under existing federal law to do that, and he refuses to do it,” he added.
Schumer called the House GOP’s field trip to the border “very nice” but suggested that it’s not helpful with getting an agreement hammered out.
“It’s very nice you go to the border, but the way to get something done is work, as we are in the Senate, on a bipartisan solution to the border crisis, which will then unlock money for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and humanitarian aid for the people in Gaza,” he said.
“I think if the Senate gets something done in a bipartisan way, it will put enormous pressure on the House to get something done as well,” Schumer added.
The House and Senate will both reconvene next week.