Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell laid out the growing hurdles facing a national security package amid deep GOP divisions over immigration and Ukraine – and as former President Donald Trump has encouraged Republicans to sink a bipartisan compromise on new border security legislation.
According to a GOP source familiar with the matter, McConnell told Republicans at a private Wednesday meeting that they are in a “quandary,” given that bipartisan talks over immigration have created intraparty feuding and may have closed off a path to getting a massive package approved this Congress.
The fresh doubts from the Senate GOP leader – one of the leading proponents of more aid to Ukraine – suggest Congress may have to punt on the issues altogether or break up the package into individual pieces, though no decisions have been made. McConnell’s goal at the meeting, sources said, was to lay out to his colleagues that there was no clear path ahead unless members were willing to compromise.
The new doubts come as House Republicans – with the encouragement of Trump, who is railing on immigration as a top election issue – are revolting over the bipartisan talks, even before they’ve concluded. Republicans were already divided over whether to approve any aid to Ukraine, even as they have insisted that the border must be dealt with before Ukraine aid can be approved. On top of that, the House Republican demand to pass their border security bill – HR 2 – is a non-starter with Democrats.
The candid assessment underscores the growing fears that Congress won’t be able to approve aid to Ukraine at a critical moment in its war against Russia – or pass any legislation to clamp down on the surge of migrants at the southern border.
During the meeting, McConnell read a quote from Trump in 2018 that cast doubt on Democrats ever voting for border security, a message to his GOP colleagues that this may be the best opportunity Republicans have to get border security in decades.
“He did a good job of quoting Donald Trump saying in 2018 that we will never get a Democrat to vote for this [border] stuff,” Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said.
Senate Republicans engaged in a lengthy debate behind closed doors over the future of US aid to Ukraine, but the GOP emerged still divided over the best path forward as lawmakers remain stuck over how to get a bill to aid Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the US border across the finish line.
“We had a thorough airing of views,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said at this point, he thinks he has a good sense of where everyone in the conference is but that there was no grand resolution.
“It was one of the most thoughtful discussions, sincere emotional discussions, we’ve had. I think that we will have a conference too divided on Ukraine, but we’re united in securing the border,” Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, said.
GOP members emerging said it was less about finding a unified position (there is none) and more about giving members an opportunity to state their case and engage in a debate. Members also said that McConnell played the part of “historian in the room,” reminding the conference of where they once were and the opportunity at hand on the border.
“He is attentive and he understands the historical lay of the land and it is very instructive when he does those things, when he reminds us of other opportunities lost, how far James Lankford has brought us further than we have ever been in 30 years,” Cramer said.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina who is among those supportive of more aid, said he just wants to remind his colleagues there are consequences to not taking action.
“This won’t take decades to regret. This will be in a matter of years and so people who chose to ultimately to exit Ukraine if they are successful – for as long as I am breathing – I will remind them of the consequences I am convinced we will have to live with,” Tillis said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah who is supportive of the US aiding the war effort in Ukraine, said that Sens. Jerry Moran, Jim Risch and Susan Collins made rousing appeals in support of the effort.
Cramer told reporters that Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, actually played a clip of the late Sen. John McCain talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Crimea.
But it’s a delicate balance for many in the GOP conference.
“We have to figure out a way to sustain this fight without depleting our capabilities around the world. I don’t think that strategy should be whatever it costs for however long it takes. That’s neither realistic nor wise but it also can’t be we are walking away when we are done because we’ll pay a price for that too,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
Asked if the meeting was tense, Rubio laughed it off, saying, “Compared to what?” Reminded that Tuesday’s lunch was animated and boisterous, Rubio quipped: “That’s not tense. Just because they don’t let us bring knives and forks anymore.”
Rubio reminded reporters that was a joke.
CNN’s Sam Fossum contributed to this report.
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