Capitol Hill — U.S. lawmakers said Tuesday a deal on border security in return for Republican votes to send nearly $60 billion in aid to Ukraine is nearing completion but likely will not be announced this week.
“The whole world is watching and asking a simple question: Does the United States stand up for its friends?” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of the lead negotiators on the deal, told reporters Tuesday. “Does the United States stand up for democracy? Does the United States stand up for the preservation of the post-World War II order? Or do we turn our back on our friends, on democracy and on international norms?”
The White House’s $106 billion national security supplemental request also includes funding for border security as well as nearly $14 billion in aid to Israel and funding for Taiwan to combat the threat posed by China.
“This is a unique opportunity where divided government has given us an opportunity to get an outcome,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “Virtually all of my members have said to their constituents for a long time, ‘We need to fix the border.’ This administration is not going to do it unless we force him to.”
Biden asks for $60 billion
The United States has dedicated more than $100 billion to arming and supporting Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve another $60 billion. Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical about the need to continue underwriting Ukraine’s defense.
The Pentagon announced on December 27 a new $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine that included additional munitions for surface-to-air missiles systems, artillery rounds and more air defense components. The Pentagon still has $4 billion available to provide Ukraine with military aid, but no funds are available to replenish the U.S. military’s stockpiles.
“We have heard reports from the Ukrainian government, from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and their general staff, that they are concerned, as they believe that units do not have the stocks and stores and ammunition that they require,” said Celeste Wallander, assistant U.S. secretary of defense for international security affairs, on Tuesday.
“And that is one of the reasons we have been focusing on the need to answer Congress’s questions so that they are able to move forward with that decision to pass the supplemental.”
Republicans set conditions for approving aid
Republicans in the Senate have conditioned approval of any additional money for Ukraine on the simultaneous strengthening of immigration rules aimed at reducing the number of people illegally entering the United States at its southern border and expelling some who are already in the country.
According to multiple news organizations, an estimated 300,000 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in December 2023. That estimate marks the highest-ever recorded number of U.S.-Mexico border crossings.
Even if an agreement passes in the Senate, it might not survive in the House, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority. A significant group of Republican House members oppose additional aid to Ukraine, and the party in early October voted out a speaker who partnered with Democrats to pass legislation.
Earlier this month, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson led a delegation of 60 House Republicans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass, Texas.
“If President Biden wants a supplemental spending bill focused on national security, it better begin with defending America’s national security,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference on the border.
Republicans have proposed their own legislation, H.R. 2, which would resume construction of a border wall as well as impose new restrictions on asylum-seekers.
Carla Babb contributed to this report.