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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Congress abandons Ukraine aid until next year as border talks continue



Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington on Dec. 19, 2023. “Our goal is as soon as we get back to get something done,” Senator Schumer said regarding military assistance to Ukraine. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Karoun Demirjian


Congress gave up earlier this week on a last-ditch bid to speed through emergency military aid to Ukraine before the end of the year, as negotiators failed to cement a deal that Republicans have demanded tying the money to a crackdown on migration across the U.S. border with Mexico.


“It is our hope that their efforts will allow the Senate to take swift action on the national security supplemental early in the new year,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, said in a rare joint statement.


They pledged to address Ukraine aid and border measures alongside military funding to Israel and the Indo-Pacific, promising that “the Senate will not let these national security challenges go unanswered.”


The delay punts the fate of Ukraine aid — and the complicated task of drafting new immigration laws — into early next year, when lawmakers will also face the daunting task of striking a broader spending agreement to avert a partial government shutdown by mid-January.


“We are not going to have a lot of time when we get back to get our security package and full-year funding bills across the finish line,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Appropriations Committee, admonishing Republicans to “get serious” about spending negotiations.


“January is not going to be an enjoyable month,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the committee, told reporters.


Senators have struggled for weeks to strike a bargain pairing about $50 billion in fresh security aid for Ukraine with border enforcement measures stringent enough to satisfy Republicans but not so severe as to alienate Democrats. They intensified their efforts late last week, after Schumer delayed the Senate’s holiday break to increase pressure for a deal before the new year.


Senior White House officials and Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, have been making near-daily visits to the Capitol to try to hammer out a compromise. But despite their efforts, which participants insist have resulted in progress, the group has yet to produce the text of a bill, or even the framework of an agreement.


Negotiations continued Tuesday afternoon, but with only days left before Christmas, they had no chance of concluding before the holiday.


As the talks have dragged on, former President Donald Trump has reprised the nativist language that has defined his campaigns and his presidency, injecting fresh hostility into the debate over immigration policy. During a campaign rally in New Hampshire, he said that immigrants from South America, Africa and Asia were “poisoning the blood of our country,” drawing comparisons to Nazi propaganda promoted by Adolf Hitler.


McConnell dismissed the remarks on Tuesday with a sharp retort.


“It strikes me that didn’t bother him when he appointed Elaine Chao secretary of transportation,” McConnell said, referring to his wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Taiwan.


McConnell has been a vocal supporter of extending military assistance to Ukraine and dispatched his most senior aides to participate in the border talks. But Republican senators who are opposed to continued U.S. funding to Ukraine and have pressed for tougher immigration restrictions than those being discussed in the negotiations said Trump did not go far enough.


“I’m mad he wasn’t even tougher than that,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said Tuesday of Trump’s comments. “When you see what’s happening at the border? We’re being overrun.”


Any compromise would face difficult odds in the House, where a majority of Republicans have voted to discontinue military assistance to Ukraine, and almost all have backed legislation to revive harsh, Trump-era border enforcement policies that would never pass the Democratic-led Senate. GOP leaders there have already warned that the border provisions of any compromise bill would have to hew closely to that legislation.


House Republican leaders continue to clamor for the Senate to dispense with negotiations on the broader security package, which includes funds for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific as well as civilians in the Gaza Strip, and take up a bill that would include only military assistance for Israel. But the money for Israel also faces some resistance.


On Tuesday, pro-Palestinian activists staged a protest in the Rotunda of the Capitol calling for a cease-fire and demanding lawmakers abandon plans to send more weapons to Israel that could be used against Gaza.


“Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crime,” the protesters chanted, before police arrested about 60 of them for an unauthorized demonstration in the Capitol.


Several Democrats, mostly on the left, want to see conditions attached to any Israel aid, which would require weapons sent to help fight Hamas in Gaza to be used in keeping with the international laws of war.


Many progressive Democrats and Hispanic lawmakers also are staunchly opposed to the border policies under consideration.


Negotiators have agreed in principle that a deal would include measures making it more difficult for migrants to claim asylum, by raising the bar for claiming a credible fear of persecution if they are returned to their home country. They also have coalesced around the idea of expanding the administration’s expedited removal authority, which allows officials to swiftly deport unlawful migrants before they can make asylum claims.


The parties are still trying to resolve differences surrounding when migrants should be detained, and which groups can be paroled into the country.

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