President Biden will send an emergency funding request for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan to Congress this week, but Senate Republicans say the administration and Democratic lawmakers will have to agree to significant immigration policy reforms if it is to have any chance of passing.
The president’s request will cost around $100 billion and include $10 billion for Israel.
Senate Republicans involved in negotiations on border security say what the White House is preparing falls well short of what they want to stem the massive flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m sure it’s going to be milquetoast and inadequate,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a leading Republican voice on immigration reform, who has participated in Senate discussions on border security language.
Cornyn, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, said the Biden administration needs to include significant policy reforms in a national security funding package.
He said failure to include those reforms “would be a problem for passing the overall bill.”
Republican senators told senior administration officials at a classified briefing Wednesday afternoon that any emergency defense spending package would need to include significant border security reforms.
“We talked about how a supplemental that’s going have the support for Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel needs to have that in it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “We made it very clear they have to do that.”
A Democratic senator familiar with the White House’s pending national security funding request confirmed that it will not include the changes to asylum policy that Republicans are demanding, signaling a tough road ahead for the bill.
Senate Republicans are warning that Biden’s request will be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill without changes to asylum law.
“They’ve got to be meaningful” policy changes, and can’t “just throw money at sanctuary cities, which is what Democrats want to do, and that’s what the White House has proposed,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
Thune will help convene a meeting of Senate Republicans on Thursday to refine the Republican request for what border security provisions need to be added.
“The key issue in all this probably is the asylum” policy, Thune said. “That is what everybody agrees, if you’re going to slow the flow [of migrants], you got to deal with the asylum issue.”
He predicted the White House would likely only propose new funding to help New York and Chicago absorb the huge influx of migrants across the Southern border.
“My guess is what they’re going to do is the baseline of what they did last time, which is just the $4 billion for New York and Chicago. I raised it on a call with them recently,” Thune said, recounting a recent discussion with White House officials.
Separate aid bills may be necessary
Some Republican aides say that Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) may have to separate the aid for Israel and pass it on its own to keep it from getting held up by a fight over immigration law.
“Linking them together is a mistake,” said one Senate GOP aide. “It would be better to leave the conversations about Ukraine and significant border security reform for later.”
The aide said there’s a “sense” among Republican and Democratic lawmakers that Israel needs assistance immediately to replenish its Iron Dome missile defense system.
Democratic allies of Israel, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (Md.), aren’t ruling out the prospect of moving money for Israel on its own.
“That’s a strategic decision,” he said. “All the money is urgent. Ukraine is desperate, they need the help. Israel can defend itself, but we have to send a clear message to Israel. So, both of those are pretty urgent to get done.”
“I’ll yield to the strategic decision on the best way to handle that,” he added, indicating it’s up to Schumer to set the strategy.
Schumer announced Monday that the Senate would act first to move an assistance package for Israel, given the urgency of the situation.
“We want to move this package quickly. The Senate must go first,” Schumer said. It will include military, intelligence, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance.
Schumer on Tuesday said the money for Israel will be paired with money for Ukraine, describing them both as high national security priorities.
“We’d like to get the supplemental package moved as quickly as possible because the needs are great in both Israel and Ukraine,” he said. “I’m working with [Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] to get it done ASAP.”
He said passing it with “strong bipartisan support” may “force the House to act.”
House action on Biden’s requested foreign aid package is unpredictable, as GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber are still squabbling over whom to elect as Speaker.
The infighting has dragged on for more than two weeks, and there’s no end in sight after Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) lost on two ballots in his bid to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Efforts to attach $6 billion in military aid for Ukraine to a government funding stopgap measure failed last month after Republican lawmakers insisted on adding border security reforms to the Ukraine money.
Changes sought on asylum policy
Republican senators say they want the Biden administration and Democrats to raise the standard for migrants seeking asylum.
Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown by stripping the Ukraine funding out of the bill only hours before the deadline.
Under current law, migrants must claim a “credible” fear of persecution in their home countries as the basis for requesting asylum.
GOP lawmakers want to raise the bar to a “reasonable” fear of persecution. This would require migrants seeking asylum to show a reasonable possibility they will be tortured or persecuted if denied safe harbor in the United States.
“I think the general consensus in the group is they need to see [border security] policy that can’t be violated” added to funding for Ukraine, said Tillis, who has participated in discussions on adding border security reforms to Ukraine funding.
“Right now, the ‘credible fear’ standard is too low,” he said.
Tillis said Republicans also want to deny asylum claims from migrants who pass through a “safe” third country before coming to the United States for refuge and to adopt “last in, first out” removal policies.
“That will have an immediate impact on future flows” of migrants, he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a leading Republican advocate for sending military aid to Ukraine, said, “I can’t imagine the United States Senate not dealing with the broken border given the state of play.”
“Of course there will have to be policy changes, or it won’t matter,” he said.