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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Senators unveil $118 billion package combining border strategies with assistance for Ukraine and Israel


WASHINGTON — A much-anticipated $118 billion package was unveiled ‍by ​Senators on⁢ Sunday, combining ‍border enforcement policy with wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel, and other U.S. allies. This marks the beginning of an uphill⁢ battle to⁤ pass ⁣the‌ bill amidst strong skepticism from Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson.

This proposal may be President Joe Biden’s best opportunity⁤ to provide Ukraine ⁣with much-needed wartime‍ aid, a significant foreign policy objective ‌that‌ he shares with both the ​Senate’s⁢ leading‍ Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer, ⁣and leading Republican, Sen.⁢ Mitch​ McConnell. ⁤A crucial vote‌ on the legislation is expected to take place in the Senate this week, but​ it faces staunch opposition from ‌conservative factions.

As Congress remains deadlocked over ⁢approving $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, ⁢the U.S. has ceased shipments of ammunition and missiles to Kyiv. ⁤This leaves ⁣Ukrainian soldiers at‍ a disadvantage as they strive to repel Russia’s invasion.

In a statement, Biden said that the Senate proposal “enables the United States, in collaboration with global partners, to​ uphold Ukraine’s freedom and bolster its capacity to ⁢resist Russia’s aggression.”

Regarding the border, Biden stated ⁤that the immigration system has been⁢ dysfunctional for too long and it’s ‍time for a remedy. “It​ will enhance our national security, fortify our ⁤border, ensure fair and humane treatment of individuals while maintaining⁣ legal⁣ immigration, in line with our national ​values,” Biden said.

The new ⁣legislation‌ would‍ also ⁢boost U.S. defense manufacturing, allocate⁣ $14 ​billion​ in military aid to Israel, ⁢direct nearly $5 billion to allies in the Asia-Pacific,⁣ and provide humanitarian ⁤aid to civilians embroiled in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

“The United⁣ States and our allies are grappling ‌with‍ numerous, intricate,⁣ and in⁤ some cases, synchronized​ challenges from adversaries aiming‍ to ‌destabilize democracy and extend authoritarian influence worldwide,” Schumer said in a statement.

To overcome resistance from House Republicans, McConnell insisted last​ year that changes to border policy be incorporated into the national security⁢ funding⁢ package. The bill⁢ proposes a revamp ‍of the asylum system at the border with swifter and stricter enforcement, and would​ grant presidents new powers⁢ to immediately expel migrants ​if authorities are overwhelmed by the number ‍of asylum⁢ seekers.

However, in a shift on immigration‍ during an election ‌year, Biden and many‌ Democrats have endorsed‍ the concept of rigorous border enforcement, ⁢while Donald Trump and his allies have criticized the proposed measures as inadequate.

Republicans have also been hesitant‌ to hand Biden a political ​victory on an issue they ‍perceive‌ as one of ​his major weaknesses. They have contended that presidents already possess⁢ sufficient ‌authority to ‌curb illegal border crossings —⁣ a position that​ would ensure immigration remains a key issue​ in the ⁢presidential election.⁣ Simultaneously, House Republicans have advocated for their own, stricter version of border security legislation.

Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, told ‌NBC’s “Meet the Press”⁣ on​ Sunday that‍ he had attempted ⁤to involve House Republicans directly in ‌the Senate’s negotiation, but was rebuffed. He stated he was unaware of the bill’s specifics,‍ but believed the solution to border issues should be a House ‍proposal​ of stringent immigration measures.

“What we’re advocating is the need‌ to stem the flow,” Johnson⁤ said. He also ⁣clarified ‌that he — not Trump — would decide whether to bring the bill to‌ the floor‍ if it passes the Senate.

However, Johnson ‌signaled on Saturday that the House will vote ⁣on a separate package ⁤of $17.6 billion of military aid for Israel — a move that ⁢allows House⁣ Republicans to ⁣demonstrate support for Israel⁢ independent of the Senate deal.

Nevertheless, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent who negotiated the border proposal, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the legislation would be “realistic, pragmatic, and the most⁣ effective ⁣solution to‌ our border crisis ​in‌ my‍ lifetime.”

“I‍ am confident that ⁣when ‌our bill passes the ‍Senate and reaches the ⁢House, members of the‌ House, including Speaker Johnson, will have had ample opportunity to⁤ read, understand ⁣the bill and ask‌ questions,”⁢ Sinema said.

The ​border proposal, which took months to negotiate, ‌is designed ‍to gain control of an ‍asylum system ‍that has⁣ been overwhelmed by record numbers of migrants arriving at the border. The‍ bill proposes a revamp ​of the system with stricter and faster ⁢enforcement measures.

If the number ​of illegal border⁢ crossings exceeds 5,000 daily for a five-day average, an expulsion ‍authority would automatically be activated, sending migrants back to Mexico without an opportunity⁣ to make an asylum claim. If the ‌number ‌reaches 4,000, presidential administrations would have the option​ of using the expulsion authority.

Biden, ‌referencing‌ the⁣ authority, has said‌ he would use ⁣it to “shut down the border” as soon as ​the bill is signed into law.

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Sunday that Johnson has “continued to tie himself in⁤ knots⁢ to delay border security, delay crucial investments in the fight against fentanyl,⁣ and delay Border ⁣Patrol⁤ hiring — as a host⁤ of his House Republican colleagues openly state that they only oppose the bipartisan border deal because of ⁤former President Donald Trump.”

At the state level, Republican governors have considered deploying National Guard ‌troops to the border. Texas⁣ Gov. Greg Abbott, who once again led a ⁢group of over a dozen other ⁣GOP governors, including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, to the southern ‌border ‍near ⁣Eagle Pass on ⁢Sunday, has been applauded by his party for his extraordinary confrontation⁤ with the Biden administration‌ over immigration enforcement.

The‌ bill would allocate $20 billion to immigration enforcement, including the hiring of thousands of new officers to evaluate asylum claims, as well as hundreds of Border Patrol agents. Some of​ that money would go ‍to ⁢shelters and services in‍ cities across⁣ the U.S. that have struggled to cope with the⁢ influx⁤ of migrants in recent months.

Migrants seeking asylum, which offers protection for individuals facing persecution‍ in their⁢ home countries, ⁤would encounter a⁣ stricter⁤ and⁣ faster ‌process for their claim⁣ evaluation. The standard⁢ in initial interviews, known as credible fear screenings, would be raised, and⁢ many would receive those interviews within days of arriving at the​ border. Final decisions ‍on their asylum⁢ claims would occur within months, ​rather than the often ⁣years-long wait that currently exists.

Among Democrats, the stricter ​asylum standards have raised concern, especially from progressive and Hispanic lawmakers. While factions of both parties have openly criticized the policies under discussion, many have reserved ​final judgment until⁢ they can review the text of the bill, which was‍ a closely guarded secret in the Capitol.

The⁣ $14 billion in the package earmarked for military ⁢support for Israel could also divide Democratic votes. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent ‌from Vermont, is pushing to remove $10 billion for offensive weaponry for‍ Israel from the package while ⁤maintaining money for defensive systems.

House‍ Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries suggested ‌in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he would ⁢be supportive ⁤if ⁤it reaches the House.

“It should not be dead on arrival,” he said. “We need more common sense in Washington, D.C., less conflict and less chaos. We’re in a period of ‍divided government. That means we should be trying to find bipartisan common ground.”

Senators ⁣finalized the border proposal on Friday, but other parts of the ‌package, including aid for U.S. ‍allies, investments⁢ in ⁤defense manufacturing capabilities, and humanitarian ‍assistance for people ⁢caught up in conflicts in ⁢Gaza and Ukraine,‍ were still being negotiated by Senate appropriators.

However, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, suggested ​during an interview on “Fox News Sunday”‌ that GOP senators ⁤would push to slow ⁤the Senate from advancing the bill quickly.

“We’re not going to deal with this next ‌week,” he said. “It’s too important.”

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  1. Disagree: This package seems misguided. It’s important to address border strategies, but combining them with assistance for Ukraine and Israel might not be the most effective approach.


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