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Senate Republicans cast serious doubt on fate of bipartsan immigration deal

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters that a planned vote on the bipartisan border bill he helped write could be doomed.
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters that a planned vote on the bipartisan border bill he helped write could be doomed.

A bipartisan plan to address U.S. asylum and border control policy faces major skepticism Monday as at least two dozen Senate Republicans cast serious doubt on the legislation's chances.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., one of the negotiators who wrote the bill, told reporters in the Capitol that he does not think a planned Wednesday vote on a motion start debate can be approved.

"We are trying to figure out what to do next," Lankford said. "People are saying hey, we need a lot more time to go through this."

Lankford spoke to reporters after a lengthy closed-door GOP meeting where members vented — sometimes angrily — about the bill.

"I think the proposal is dead," Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said bluntly.

Lankford would not go that far. He told reporters that it was clear the bill would need to be amended in order to garner more Republican support. But moving any further to the right risks losing enough Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold.

The newly-released $118 billion national security bill includes roughly $20 billion for border provisions, including $650 million for the border wall and funding for asylum judges, expanded detention capacity and other programs.

The proposal would also raise the threshold to meet asylum claims, mandate a 90-day initial determination of eligibility and require Border Protection agents to turn away all migrants who enter between official ports of entry if the total number of encounters reaches a certain threshold.

The bill is the result of months of negotiations following GOP demands that Democrats link border policy to President Biden's request for military aid to Israel and Ukraine.

Republican concerns

The doubts from Senate Republicans follow days of pressure from House Republicans and former President Trump to dump the bill before the details were made public. The opposition ramped up in the hours after the bill was released.

"Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time," House Republican leaders said in a statement. "It is DEAD on arrival in the House. We encourage the U.S. Senate to reject it."

"Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill," Trump posted on Truth Social.

Some, like Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, echoed that message on Monday.

"These are sort of pretty massive concessions to Democratic policy goals," Vance told reporters. "I'm not sure what Republicans got out of it."

"I think overall the members that have already come out and said no, I think it is hard to overcome that and the attitude of the House," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate GOP leadership. "I am very disappointed that so many of our members came out as a hard no before the legislation was even released."

"I wish we had given James [Lankford] the benefit of the doubt to take a look at the text before we started speaking our opposition," Ernst said.

Democratic frustration

"I hope they didn't send Senator Lankford and the rest of us out on a fool's errand," lead negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters.

"There are certainly some typically Republican-aligned groups that are supportive," Murphy said, referring to an endorsement from a Border Protection agents' union, "but Trump seems to be a bit of a puppeteer these days. I hope that's not true with respect to this bill."

While the bulk of Senate Democrats appear to support the proposal, there are a few lawmakers who have come out against the proposal.

"After months of a negotiating process that lacked transparency or the involvement of a single border state Democrat," Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said in a statement, "the deal includes a new version of a failed Trump-era immigration policy that will cause more chaos at the border, not less."

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Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.
Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.