Here’s how a border-Ukraine deal can still happen
Today at the Washington Monthly, Tamar Jacoby of the Progressive Policy Institute’s New Ukraine Project files a dispatch from Kyiv, sharing how many Ukrainians are “ready to be disappointed” as they see an “ebbing of American support.”
Also today, Speaker Mike Johnson reportedly told his House Republican colleagues in a closed-door meeting that the nascent Senate border security-Ukraine aid deal is “absolutely dead” (according to Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene) and that he would not put such a deal on the floor for a vote.
But there’s still a chance America can beat their expectations, and Johnson may accept a version of the Senate deal.
I’ll explain how that could happen, but first, here’s what’s featured at the Washington Monthly website:
For obvious reasons, Johnson hasn’t waited for the final text of the Senate deal to be published before repeatedly condemning it.
Two weeks ago, Trump moved to box him in, posting on his social media site: “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 … I have no doubt that our wonderful Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, will only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER.”
For the deal to get through the House at this point, a few things likely need to happen:
First and foremost, deep down, Speaker Johnson has to actually want a deal.
Back in October, Johnson said, “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine, because I don’t believe it would stop there.” If he really believes that, and Ukraine aid can’t pass without a link to a border plan, then he’ll find a way to make it happen.
Second, Senate Republicans have to come through.
Right now, all the pressure Johnson is feeling is from Trump. But 20 or more Senate Republicans—encompassing not just Trump critics like Mitt Romney but Trump supporters like Lindsey Graham—may well vote for the deal.
To turn the screws on Johnson, they could stress that killing the bill would mean Johnson would be solely responsible for giving Ukraine to Putin and allowing the border crisis to worsen.
And those senators may be joined by swing district House Republicans, upon whom Johnson’s paper-thin majority rests. Johnson needs to be severely cross-pressured for him to even consider bucking Trump.
But that can’t happen unless and until Senate Republicans step up, join Democrats (who are taking their own political risks) and pass the bill.
Third, the deal could use a tweak to satisfy Johnson’s chief stated complaint.
Johnson said today of the Senate deal, “It seems the new authority to shut down the border would kick in only after as many as 5,000 illegal crossings happen each day … The goal should be zero illegal crossings a day, not 5,000.”
This refers to published reports of a provision of the deal in which tough measures are triggered if the daily average of border crossings, over a seven-day period, reaches 5,000.
But the daily average has been well over 5,000 for most of the Biden presidency. The tough measures would be triggered right away.
The lead Republican negotiator of deal, Senator James Lankford—who is no moderate—said on Fox News Sunday that Johnson’s complaint is misguided: “This is set up for if you have a rush of people coming at the border, the border closes down. No one gets in. This is not someone standing at the border with a little clicker saying, I’m going to let one more in and we’re at 4,999, and then it has to stop. It is a shutdown of the border and everyone actually gets turned around.”
Johnson’s complaint is disingenuous, but also easily addressed. You can lower the threshold. Or get rid of the threshold, and put the planned restrictive measures in place now (perhaps with a sunset provision so the restrictions aren’t permanent.) No matter what, the restrictions will happen immediately.
If Johnson wants to find a way forward, he can.
Whether he wants to deep down requires clairvoyance we don’t possess. But note one other thing he said today about the deal: “It’s hard to make a judgement about something you haven’t seen.”
That statement gives him some wiggle room to recalibrate his position once the text is released, and perhaps massaged, to address his stated concerns.
Betting on a House Republican leader to buck Trump is hardly a safe bet. But at minimum, the deal isn’t dead yet.
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Author: Bill Scher