US Senate’s border-Ukraine deal that Donald Trump opposes on brink of collapse

A hard-fought bipartisan deal to impose new US border restrictions and unlock Ukraine war aid is on the brink of collapsing in the Senate, where Republican support crumbled in the face of opposition from Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump.

Republican senators emerged from a contentious, 90-minute meeting Monday night arguing that a planned Wednesday vote on the measure was too soon, delaying aid Ukraine says it desperately needs for at least several more weeks and leaving the worsening situation at the border unresolved.

The US$118.3 billion deal was the result of months of closed-door Senate negotiations but its prospects began faltering soon after negotiators announced the details late Sunday.

Less than 24 hours later, Republicans – even those who had been open to the deal – soured.

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The US Capitol in Washington. Photo: AFP

“I think the proposal is dead,” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a strong supporter of Ukraine aid, said.

James Lankford, the key Republican in the negotiations, said he expects Wednesday’s planned procedural vote to fail because senators say they want more time to consider and make changes to the bill.

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He called the legislation “a work in progress” and joked he’s not prepared to have a funeral yet.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had supported the Sunday compromise, said Republican discussions would continue Tuesday. In the meeting, he told senators they should vote “no” on Wednesday if they need more time to review the bill, a person familiar with the meeting said.

Any Republican changes to the bill would almost certainly cost crucial Democratic support, and potentially the backing of President Joe Biden.

John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, cautioned that they still needed to hear from other Republican senators.

Thune and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa told reporters that they were undecided on the bill. “Hopefully, we can find a way forward but I don’t know if it’s possible right now,” she said.

Lankford defended his bill on Monday evening during a closed-door meeting of the Senate Republicans. But even would-be supporters were distancing themselves from the legislation.

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At stake is US$60 billion in aid for Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

Republican Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a moderate voice on immigration who has urged a deal, said he would vote against advancing the measure in a procedural vote planned for Wednesday. Instead, he recommends the Senate take several weeks to review it.

Blocking the Wednesday procedural vote makes it more likely the Ukraine-border bill is delayed indefinitely, or at least past a two-week break the Senate is scheduled to begin later this week.

Trump condemned the deal in a social media post Monday as “a great gift for Democrats and a Death Wish for The Republican Party”. He also flatly rejected tying immigration to foreign aid.

House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republican leaders in a joint statement Monday declared the Senate compromise “a waste of time” and “dead on arrival” in the House.

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California Democrat Alex Padilla and other liberals are also expected to vote against the legislation.

Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and one of the Senate negotiators, said the vote would “absolutely” still take place. He called Trump “a bit of a puppeteer” for Republicans.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent at the centre of the negotiations, said she continues to talk with colleagues about the details of the legislation.

The legislation would crack down on illegal border crossings, make it harder to apply for asylum and speed up deportations of undocumented migrants but also open up more visas for legal immigration.

The deal, which includes US$60 billion for Ukraine, was negotiated over several months. It also includes US$20 billion for the border, US$6 billion more than the Biden administration requested.

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