WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation that paired tougher border policy with more U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel, just days after it was unveiled by a bipartisan group of senators who spent months negotiating with the backing of the GOP.
The motion fell well short of the 60 votes needed to advance, with only four Republican senators voting with Democrats to open debate on the bill: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and James Lankford of Oklahoma.
For months, Senate Republicans demanded border policy changes to solve what they called a migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for passage of more U.S. aid to Ukraine. But they buckled and came out against the bill this week after weeks of heavy pressure from former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who helped negotiate the package, could barely contain her anger at her GOP colleagues who voted to filibuster the bill Wednesday.
“After all those trips to the desert, after all those press conferences, it turns out this crisis isn’t much of a crisis after all,” Sinema deadpanned. “Sunday morning, it’s a real crisis. Monday morning, the crisis magically disappeared.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who negotiated the border deal alongside Sinema and Lankford, also blasted Republicans for bowing to pressure from Trump.
“We achieved what almost everyone said was impossible — the first serious bipartisan border compromise in a decade,” Murphy said. “Republicans asked for this, and yet within 24 hours, they backed down because Donald Trump told them to preserve chaos at the border, because he thinks it helps him politically.”
Immediately after the vote on the Ukraine and border package failed Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved to bring up a bill that includes only U.S. aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — without the border deal that Republicans derided.
I want to help Ukraine, but I got to help my own country first, and I don’t think we’ve done an adequate job.Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
It’s not clear, however, if enough Republicans will vote to advance that legislation either. Some GOP senators said that they wanted an agreement from Schumer to allow votes on changes to border policies before they vote to open debate on the second measure, even though they had just voted to kill the bipartisan border, which included tougher border policies, minutes earlier. The motion to advance the U.S. foreign aid package without border provisions would also require 60 votes to move forward.
“It would be an embarrassment for our country — and an absolute nightmare for the Republican Party — if they reject national security funding twice in one day,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “Today is the day for Republicans to do the right thing when it comes to our national security.”
However, the Senate recessed on Wednesday evening without taking a vote on the second bill, raising doubts about the path ahead for aid to Ukraine and Israel. Republicans held the chamber in suspense for hours as they deliberated behind closed doors on what amendments they would like to see receive a vote in exchange for moving forward with the bill. Some suggested reinserting changes to border policies, even though they rejected the bipartisan border deal earlier in the day.
“I want to help Ukraine, but I got to help my own country first, and I don’t think we’ve done an adequate job,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.
Democrats were left scratching their heads about the GOP’s strategy.
“It started with, ‘We must have border in order to consider Ukraine aid,’ to ‘Cannot have border and consider the Ukraine aid,’ to ‘We have to have votes on border to consider the Ukraine aid.’ We’ve tried every conceivable way,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told HuffPost.
By the end of Wednesday night, it was clear Republicans had yet to make up their minds, and Schumer announced that the Senate would gavel back in on Thursday in order “to give our Republican colleagues time to figure themselves out.” He vowed the chamber “will have this vote tomorrow.”