As Senate Republicans blocked the advance of tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, President Joe Biden criticized their tactics as “horrible” and dangerous. .
Biden in the White House warned of dire consequences for Kyiv – and a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin – if Congress fails to pass a $110 billion wartime funding package for Ukraine and Israel as well as other national security priorities. Hours later, Senate Republicans narrowly voted to stop progress on the package, something they had threatened to do all week.
“They are prepared to literally bring Ukraine to its knees on the battlefield and undermine our national security in the process,” Biden said.
But even as he blasted Republicans for their stance, Biden emphasized that he is willing to “make significant compromises on the border,” if that’s what it takes to get the package through Congress.
That statement raised at least some hope that progress could be made in the coming days as the Senate grinds through border security negotiations, one of the most fraught issues in American politics. Biden’s comments on Wednesday were his clearest yet to reach out to Republicans and came at a critical time, with Congressional passage for emergency funds quickly disappearing and America’s support for many allies of doubt.
“If we don’t support Ukraine, what will the rest of the world do?” Biden added.
The president’s statement came a few hours after he met almost exclusively with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and leaders of the Group of Seven advanced democracies, which strongly supported Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
“We need to fix the broken border system. It’s broken,” Biden said, adding that he was “also willing to change policy.” He did not name specific policy proposals and accused Republicans of that prefers a political issue over bipartisan compromise.
Senator James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who is leading the Senate’s negotiations on border policy, was encouraged by what he heard, saying it seemed like the president was “willing to sit down and talk.”
Senators in both parties acknowledged they would need to act quickly if a deal were to be reached. Congress is scheduled to be in Washington in a few days before the end of the year. The White House, on the other hand, has sounded the alarm about what will happen if they do not approve more funding soon, saying that the Ukrainian military will be stopped, or even overrun.
“When the deadlines come, all the attention is there and we realize: ‘OK. Now is the time to actually address it,’” Lankford said.
Democrats involved in the negotiations also said a direct hand from the president, as well as from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, could help.
“This kind of thorny, difficult problem is exactly what Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell have been working on. And we could use their help and their leadership on this,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., another negotiator.
So far, McConnell, while an ardent supporter of aid to Ukraine, has sided with Republicans who are firmly against the security package unless it includes changes to America’s border policies. Every Republican voted against this advance Wednesday night.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., called the failed test vote “a sad night in the history of the Senate and our country.” He urged Republicans to present a border proposal “seriously, instead of the extreme policies they’ve presented so far.”
Republican negotiators are expected to send a new proposal to Democrats after the failed vote.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been involved in the negotiations, said the Republicans’ hard-charging bargain leaves little room for agreement and he remains skeptical that a deal can be struck.
“They have to figure out if they want to negotiate or if they want to make the requirements take-it-or-leave-it,” Murphy said.
Republicans argue that record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border pose a security threat because border authorities are not adequately screening them. They also said they cannot justify their constituents sending billions of dollars to other countries while failing to address the border at home.
So far, the senators have found an agreement to raise the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system. But they are at odds over putting limits on humanitarian parole, a program that allows the executive branch to temporarily admit migrants without action from Congress.
But Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said the talks in the Senate “will never be able to negotiate the kind of meaningful policy changes” that Republicans want. He called Biden’s comments “positive” and said negotiations should next include the president, McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson.
The president’s willingness to engage directly with the issue carries political risks. Immigrant advocates and some Democratic senators are sounding the alarm about tightening the asylum system.
Senator Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who led a statement with 10 other senators last month calling for an increase in legal immigration to be included in the negotiations, said he will watch closely what Biden agreed on border security.
“Devil’s in the details,” Padilla said, adding that the direction of the talks in the Senate “is about the first day.”
Even if the president and senators somehow find a way forward on border security, any deal will face significant obstacles in the House. Hardline conservatives who control the chamber have vowed to block it unless it puts in place a broad set of tough border and immigration policies.
Johnson, who as speaker has already expressed deep skepticism over funding for Ukraine, has signaled that he will not support the aid package if it is not followed by HR 2, a bill that would overhaul the US immigration system. have conservative priorities.
“The American people deserve nothing less.” Johnson said in a statement.