Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Wednesday floated the possibility to Senate Republicans of splitting Ukraine funding from border security reforms that are coming under heavy criticism from Senate conservatives.
McConnell acknowledged to GOP senators at a Wednesday afternoon meeting that the politics of border security have turned out to be a lot more complicated than he and other Senate Republicans anticipated when they insisted months ago on linking Ukraine funding to border security, according to Senate GOP sources familiar with his comments.
“I think the border portion is dead,” said one Republican senator, who cited McConnell’s remarks to the GOP conference at the Wednesday meeting.
The lawmaker said that McConnell told GOP senators “this has gotten to be a lot more politically difficult than he thought it would be.”
“That sounded to me like the first step toward saying, ‘We just can’t get this done,’” the source said. “I predict the border part falls off.”
Ukraine funding has long been a priority for McConnell, however, and he didn’t back down from his push to provide tens of billions of more dollars in military aid to Kyiv.
A second Senate GOP source familiar with McConnell’s comments said he was “laying out the options” to Republican senators now that it’s become clear that Senate conservatives strongly oppose the border security reforms that were negotiated with Democrats to go along with Ukraine funding.
While McConnell and other Senate Republicans believe the concessions extracted from Democrats would be “huge wins,” the source said, it appears that former President Trump, the party’s likely presidential nominee, will oppose the package.
The source, however, emphasized that McConnell was not “definitive” about removing border security reforms from Ukraine funding and was only laying out the options for the emergency defense supplemental spending package, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will eventually bring to the Senate floor.
Senate Republicans who support the emerging package say it’s becoming clear that Trump will oppose it, which means it has little to no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.
“The Trump people want to kill it and run on the issue,” said the Senate source familiar with the internal Republican discussion.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that a Senate package linking Ukraine funding and border security has “zero point zero, zero, zero percent” chance of passing the House, a sentiment expressed by other GOP senators.
Cruz said under the deal negotiated by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who was tapped by McConnell to lead the border security talks, the number of migrants coming into the country on a daily basis would be twice as high as under former President Barrack Obama.
“It ain’t going to pass…. We had a vigorous discussion at lunch yesterday – I asked leadership, ‘Why on earth would you be teeing up a vote with every Democrat and 10 or 12 Republicans that has no chance of passing the House?” Cruz said, recounting a tense moment in the Tuesday Senate GOP lunch.
Dropping border security language that has been painstakingly negotiated with Senate Democrats and the White House over the past six weeks from Ukraine funding would be quite a shift in strategy.
But that may be the only option for saving Ukraine funding given how much opposition the border security reforms are now facing from Republican conservatives.
Trump weighed in last week when he wrote on Truth Social: “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people.”
McConnell may also be willing to reduce economic assistance for Ukraine from the package in order to attract more Republican votes for the proposal if it’s stripped of the border security measure. Such a package would keep military aid and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), McConnell’s top deputy, has floated the idea of cutting some economic assistance Ukraine out of the package to improve the chances of getting the military aid passed.
“Personally speaking, I’d like to see portions [of economic assistance] pared down. I think the number is really high and there a lot of things funded in there. I think a lot of our members are very much for military aid, for lethal aid, particularly given the fact it’s … restocking our arsenals here in this country,” Thune said.