US Lawmakers Back in Session, Working on Border Security, Ukraine Aid
U.S. lawmakers came back into session this week after a three-week holiday break to continue work toward a deal on border security in return for Republican votes to send more aid to Ukraine.
“We are closer to an agreement than we have been since the beginning of these talks,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of the lead negotiators on the deal, told reporters Tuesday.
“I wish that we weren’t in this position. I wish that Senate Republicans supported Ukraine aid because they believe in Ukraine,” he said. “I wish that we weren’t conditioning support for Ukraine upon the resolution of the most difficult issue in American politics — immigration reform.”
The White House’s $106 billion national security supplemental request also includes funding for border security as well as nearly $14 billion in aid to Israel and funding for Taiwan to combat the threat posed by China.
Senate negotiators continued meeting remotely throughout the three weeks Congress was out of session.
“We are working very hard to come up with an agreement to improve our situation at the border. But it’s also important to remember the world is literally at war,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “This is the most serious international situation we have faced since the Berlin Wall came down. We need to pass the supplemental, and there needs to be a strong border provision part of it.”
The United States has dedicated more than $100 billion to arming and supporting Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve an additional $60 billion. Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical about the need to continue underwriting Ukraine’s defense.
The Pentagon announced on December 27 a new $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine, which included additional munitions for surface-to-air missiles systems, artillery rounds and more air defense components. The Pentagon still has $4 billion available to provide Ukraine with military aid, but no funds are available to replenish the U.S. military’s stockpiles. Officials tell VOA that no new aid packages are expected until Congress provides more funding.
Republicans in the Senate have conditioned approval of any additional money for Ukraine on the simultaneous strengthening of immigration rules aimed at reducing the number of people illegally entering the United States at its southern border and expelling some who are already in the country.
According to multiple news organizations, an estimated 300,000 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in December 2023. That estimate marks the highest recorded number of U.S.-Mexico border crossings.
Even if an agreement passes in the Senate, it might not survive in the House, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority. A significant group of Republican House members oppose additional aid to Ukraine, and the party in early October voted out a speaker who partnered with Democrats to pass legislation.
Last week, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson led a delegation of 60 House Republicans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass, Texas.
“If President Biden wants a supplemental spending bill focused on national security, it better begin with defending America’s national security,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference on the border.
Republicans have proposed their own legislation, H.R. 2, which would resume construction of a border wall as well as impose new restrictions on asylum-seekers.
VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed reporting.