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Bipartisan border bill loses support, fails procedural vote in U.S. Senate

Credit: AP

Ariana Figueroa, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 23, 2024

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate failed Thursday to advance a border security bill as both parties seek to hone their messages on immigration policy in the runup to November’s elections.

The Senate bill failed to advance on a 43-50 procedural vote. The chamber already rejected the measure as part of a broader foreign aid package earlier this year. The bill, negotiated with the White House and a bipartisan trio of senators in the hopes of winning broad appeal, would have overhauled immigration law for the first time in more than 30 years.

Two of the border deal’s chief Senate negotiators, Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema, voted against advancing the measure Thursday, protesting what they said was an unserious process focused on political optics. The bill’s third major sponsor, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, voted in favor.

The procedural vote to advance to debate on the bill came as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aimed to contrast Democrats’ approach to immigration policy with Republicans’ ahead of the November elections. The issue continues to rise as a top concern for voters and remains a core campaign theme for the GOP and its presumptive presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.

Both chambers are readying other votes seemingly aimed at highlighting election themes.

The Democratic-led Senate is teeing up votes as early as next month on access to contraceptives, and protections for in vitro fertilization, or IVF, as Democrats have continued to campaign on the issue of reproductive rights.

The Republican-controlled House is moving forward with immigration related legislation, such as barring noncitizens from voting in federal elections, something that is rare and already illegal, as the GOP continues to highlight its disagreements with the White House over immigration policy.

Shortly after the Senate vote, President Joe Biden in a statement said Senate Republicans “put partisan politics ahead of our country’s national security.”

“Congressional Republicans do not care about securing the border or fixing America’s broken immigration system,” he said. “If they did, they would have voted for the toughest border enforcement in history.”

Losing support

The border security bill, S.4361, received fewer votes Thursday as a standalone bill than it had as part of the larger foreign aid package in February, when it failed on a 49-50 procedural vote. Sixty votes are needed to advance bills in the Senate.

The bill did not get all Democrats on board, which Schumer acknowledged earlier this week was a possibility.

“We do not expect every Democrat or every Republican to come out in favor of this bill,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The only way to pass this bill – or any border bill – is with broad bipartisan support.”

But the bill failed to attract that broad support, losing backing even from Democrats who’d voted for the foreign aid package.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said in a Wednesday statement that while he voted for the larger package in early February – mostly because it included critical aid to Ukraine – he would not do so this time around because the bill was too restrictive.

“I will not vote for the bill coming to the Senate floor this week because it includes several provisions that will violate Americans’ shared values,” Booker said. “The proposed bill would exclude people fleeing violence and persecution from seeking asylum and instead doubles down on failed anti-immigrant policies that encourage irregular immigration.”

‘Another cynical, political game’

Democratic senators who voted against moving the bill forward included Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler of California, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Booker. Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sinema also voted against.

Sinema said she voted against advancing her own bill because she felt Democrats were using her bill to “point the finger back at the other party.”

“Yet another cynical, political game,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican to vote to advance the bill after Lankford voted against the bill he helped write.

Lankford said Thursday’s vote was “a prop.”

“Everyone sees this for what it is,” he said. “It is not an actual effort to make law, it is an effort to do political messaging.”

Padilla, who voted against the larger package, said on the Senate floor Thursday that he was disappointed Democrats were voting on the bill again because it did not address the root causes of migration or create lawful pathways to citizenship for children brought into the U.S. without authorization known as Dreamers, farmworkers, and noncitizens who have been in the country for decades.

He urged other Democrats to vote no.

“The proposal before us was initially supposed to be a concession, a ransom to be paid to Republicans to pass urgent and critical aid to Ukraine,” Padilla said. “What’s this concession for now? It’s hard to swallow.”

Senate Republicans accused Democrats of bringing the bill as a political stunt.

“One thing the American people don’t have to wonder about is why Washington Democrats are suddenly champing at the bit to convince their constituents that they care about border security,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor Thursday. “(Americans) know the solution is not cynical Senate theater.”

Biden called McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson on Monday night to ask them to vote for the bill, but both Republican leaders rejected that appeal.

First vote

Lankford, Sinema and Murphy introduced the bill earlier this year, optimistic that months of bipartisan negotiations could lead to the first immigration policy overhaul in decades.

But Trump opposed the measure, and after those senators released the legislative text, House Republicans said they would fall in line with the former president. Senate Republicans then walked away from the deal they had said would be needed in order for passage of a supplemental foreign aid package to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region.

The sweeping border security bill would have raised the bar for migrants claiming asylum, clarified the White House’s parole authority, ended the practice of allowing migrants to live in U.S. communities as they await their asylum hearings, and given Biden the executive authority to close the southern border when asylum claims reached high levels, among other things. 

Dueling messages

The day leading up to Thursday’s vote, Senate Democrats and Republicans held dueling press conferences on the bill.

Democrats, including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, argued that the bill negotiated earlier in the year would address the fentanyl crisis by providing new scanning technology at ports of entry and increasing staffing for custom agents.

Stabenow said she’s tired of Senate Republicans saying that “‘somebody should do something about the border,’” and that Thursday’s vote would give them an opportunity to address the southern border.

She was joined by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who talked about how many people in their states had died from fentanyl overdoses.

Republicans in their press conference argued that Democrats were holding a second vote to protect vulnerable incumbents in competitive races in Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“It is an election-year political stunt designed to give our Democratic colleagues the appearance of doing something about this problem without doing anything,” Tennessee GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Wednesday.

She was joined by Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rick Scott of Florida, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, John Coryn of Texas, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Pennsylvania Democrats Bob Casey and John Fetterman both voted in favor of the bill.

“I voted yes on this bill once again because I know we must secure our border, and this bill would help do that,” Fetterman said in a statement Thursday. “But I am tired of this political theater. I have Republican colleagues who will spend all day yelling on the floor about border security but voted against this bill because they’d rather campaign on the issue than actually address it.”

The issue of immigration has emerged as one of the key issues in the 2024 election. A Philadelphia Inquirer/New York Times/Siena College poll released earlier this month found that the economy is the top issue for voters in Pennsylvania, with abortion second, and immigration a very close third.

Republican Senate candidate David McCormick, who is running against Casey, has talked about border security at length during his campaign.  McCormick visited the U.S. Mexico border on May 18, his second trip to the border in the past two years. He said he met with U.S. border officials, a community hospital health care center and nonprofits that help abused women and children. 

McCormick told the Capital-Star the bipartisan border bill is a “good, well meaning effort,” that falls short.  “It didn’t accomplish the mission,” he said, “which is securing the border.”

His preference for a border bill would be H.R. 2, introduced in May 2023 by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), known as the “Secure the Border” Act,” which he said he would vote for. H.R. 2 passed the U.S. House in 2023 with 219 Republicans voting in favor, and all Democrats and two Republicans voting against. The bill has stalled in the Senate.

“I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want a wall and we have the resources,” McCormick said. 

“The wall is formidable,” he added. “It doesn’t mean it’s not breachable, but it’s formidable.”

House opposition

Even if the border security bill passed the Senate, it would have no chance in the House, where Johnson has vowed it will be dead on arrival.

The Louisiana Republican in a Wednesday press conference called the measure a messaging bill and said Schumer was “trying to give his vulnerable members cover.”

And not all House Democrats were on board with the bill negotiated out of the Senate.

The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Nanette Barragán of California, slammed Senate Democrats for putting forth the legislation and urged them to abandon the effort.

“We are disappointed that the Senate will once again vote on an already-failed border bill in a move that only splits the Democratic Caucus over extreme and unworkable enforcement-only policies,” they wrote in a statement.

“This framework, which was constructed under Republican hostage-taking, does nothing to address the longstanding updates needed to modernize our outdated immigration system, create more legal pathways, and recognize the enormous contributions of immigrants to communities and our economy.”

Latino Democrats also voiced opposition to the bill when it was first released because it contained many hard-line policies that were reminiscent of the Trump administration.

Capital-Star reporter John Cole contributed reporting.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.