McConnell Casts Doubt on Border Deal, Saying Trump Opposition May Sink It

McConnell Casts Doubt on Border Deal, Saying Trump Opposition May Sink It

The emerging bipartisan border deal is hitting fresh snags among Republicans on Capitol Hill because of the opposition of former President Donald J. Trump, who is closing in on his party’s presidential nomination at a critical time for the agreement.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, told Republicans privately on Wednesday that the politics of the issue had been complicated by Mr. Trump’s rise and his hostility to the agreement, putting the party “in a quandary,” according to lawmakers who participated in the meeting and described his comments on the condition of anonymity.

The remarks, reported earlier by Punchbowl News, were striking coming from a Republican who has toiled to distance himself and his party from the former president. Mr. McConnell has vociferously backed the proposed border compromise and has been a chief proponent of a stalled effort to send tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, which Republicans have said must be tied to the deal.

Mr. McConnell’s abrupt change in tone reflected the increasingly difficult challenge facing Senate negotiators as they race to finalize immigration legislation that the former president is already actively campaigning against.

Mr. Trump has encouraged Republicans to reject any border deal “unless we get EVERYTHING” the party has demanded, fueling the opposition of Republican lawmakers who have argued that the bipartisan proposal, which includes measures to increase deportations and make it more difficult to claim asylum, doesn’t go far enough.

His opposition has made it more difficult to secure the support of a majority of Senate Republicans for an eventual deal, the threshold that backers say they must meet in order to persuade the House to take it up. Even if it meets that bar in the Senate, Speaker Mike Johnson has cast doubt on the prospect that he would bring it to the floor in the House, where hard right lawmakers are vehemently against it.

Mr. McConnell addressed Senate Republicans in a closed-door meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss the war in Ukraine, in a session convened upon the request of Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who is among those raising doubts about the border deal.

“I’m literally not getting any kind of acceptable response, other than, ‘Oh, this is great, you know, we’re getting things we never thought we could get,’” Mr. Johnson said of the border talks this week, questioning whether the proposed restrictions would significantly limit the number of migrants trying to cross the border unlawfully.

Other Republicans have said their party would be unwise to give President Biden a compromise that could help him politically without adequately addressing the issue.

“A ‘deal’ will allow Biden to pretend he’s doing something about the border but it won’t solve the problem,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on social media on Wednesday.

Republican proponents of the deal have argued that their party members must take advantage of the unique circumstances they are in, with a Democratic president and a Democrat-led Senate that have been persuaded to accept border security measures without demanding significant trade-offs to extend legal status to undocumented immigrants or increase legal pathways to immigration.

Mr. McConnell has frequently argued that Republicans would have a worse chance of achieving a significant border crackdown if they controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. On Wednesday, he invoked Mr. Trump’s own complaints from 2018 about the difficultly of securing Democratic votes for border measures to buttress that point.

Still, senators emerged from the meeting conceding that Mr. Trump’s opposition might have doomed an agreement that otherwise would have a good chance of uniting the two parties.

The border deal would draw the support of “probably a majority of Republicans, if they voted their conscience, but there’s more to it than that,” Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, said after the discussion. Mr. Trump’s “position matters; he’s both a former president and he’s more and more likely the next president.”

Some Republicans were still arguing that the emerging agreement was worth supporting, even if it did not satisfy every last Republican demand.

“It goes far enough for me, and I think if anyone’s intellectually honest with themselves, they know that these would be extraordinary tools for President Trump,” Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, said when exiting the meeting. “We will rue the day if we miss this opportunity.”

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