U.S. Senate rejects bipartisan border bill in procedural vote

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, accompanied by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, addressed the media in a press conference on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, to express their support for a border security bill. Unfortunately, the bill was not successful in a procedural vote on Thursday. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

The border security bill faced a setback on Thursday in the U.S. Senate as both parties strive to refine their immigration policy stances ahead of the upcoming elections in November.

The Senate bill did not pass in a procedural vote of 43-50. Earlier this year, the chamber had already rejected the measure as part of a larger foreign aid package. The bill, which was negotiated with the White House and a bipartisan group of senators to gain widespread support, aimed to overhaul immigration law for the first time in over 30 years.

In a display of their dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of seriousness and focus on political optics, two key Senate negotiators of the border deal, Republican James Lankford from Oklahoma and independent Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, voted against advancing the measure on Thursday. However, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, the third major sponsor of the bill, voted in favor.

The Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, strategically scheduled a procedural vote to advance the bill to debate. This move aimed to highlight the Democratic Party’s contrasting approach to immigration policy in comparison to the Republicans’, especially with the November elections drawing closer. Immigration remains a pressing concern for voters and a significant campaign theme for the GOP and its presumed presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.

Both chambers are preparing for additional votes that appear to be aimed at emphasizing election themes.

The Democratic-led Senate plans to hold votes in the coming month on issues pertaining to access to contraceptives and protections for in vitro fertilization (IVF). These topics have been a key focus for Democrats as they advocate for reproductive rights.

The Republican-controlled House is taking steps to pass immigration-related legislation, including a proposal to prohibit noncitizens from voting in federal elections. This move comes as the GOP aims to emphasize its differences with the White House on immigration policy. It is worth noting that noncitizens voting in federal elections is already illegal, making this proposed measure somewhat redundant.

President Joe Biden criticized Senate Republicans for prioritizing partisan politics over the national security of the country in a statement following the Senate vote.

According to him, Congressional Republicans lack concern for securing the border or addressing the issues with America’s immigration system. He argues that if they truly cared, they would have supported the most stringent border enforcement measures in history.

Losing support

The border security bill, S.4361, received fewer votes on Thursday as a standalone bill compared to its inclusion in the larger foreign aid package back in February. During the previous vote, the bill failed to advance with a procedural vote of 49-50. It is important to note that a minimum of sixty votes are required to move bills forward in the Senate.

Schumer admitted earlier this week that there was a possibility of not getting all Democrats on board with the bill.

“We can’t anticipate that every Democrat or Republican will endorse this bill,” Schumer stated during his Senate floor speech on Tuesday. “In order to pass this bill, or any border bill for that matter, we need to have widespread bipartisan support.”

However, the bill was unable to garner the widespread support it needed, even losing the backing of Democrats who had previously voted in favor of the foreign aid package.

In a statement on Wednesday, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker expressed his decision not to vote for the larger package this time. He had previously voted in favor of the package in early February, primarily due to its inclusion of crucial aid to Ukraine. However, Booker now finds the bill to be overly restrictive, leading to his decision to withhold his support.

“I cannot support the bill that will be presented on the Senate floor this week. It contains several provisions that go against the principles we hold dear as Americans,” Booker stated. He further added, “This proposed bill would prevent individuals escaping violence and persecution from seeking asylum. Instead, it reinforces ineffective anti-immigrant measures that only contribute to irregular immigration.”

‘Another cynical, political game’

Several Democratic senators, including Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler of California, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Booker, voted against advancing the bill. Additionally, independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sinema also voted against it.

Sinema explained her decision to vote against advancing her own bill, expressing her concern that Democrats were using her bill as a means to shift blame onto the other party.

She expressed her frustration, calling it “yet another cynical, political game.”

In a surprising turn of events, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska stood as the sole Republican who chose to support the bill’s progression. This decision came in contrast to Sen. Lankford’s unexpected vote against the very bill that he had played a significant role in crafting.

According to Lankford, the vote that took place on Thursday was merely a prop.

“He said that everyone recognizes the true nature of this act. It is not a genuine attempt to create legislation, but rather a means of conveying political messages.”

Padilla expressed his disappointment on the Senate floor Thursday, stating that he voted against the larger package. He believes that the bill falls short as it fails to address the underlying causes of migration or establish lawful pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, farmworkers, and long-term noncitizens in the country.

He encouraged fellow Democrats to vote against it.

“The original intention of the proposal was to be a concession, a ransom offered to Republicans in order to secure much-needed and vital aid for Ukraine,” Padilla expressed. “But now, it is difficult to comprehend the purpose of this concession.”

Senate Republicans have accused Democrats of bringing the bill as a political stunt.

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, it is clear to the American people why Washington Democrats are now eager to demonstrate their concern for border security. McConnell stated on the Senate floor Thursday that the solution does not lie in mere theatrical displays by the Senate, as the American people are well aware.

On Monday night, Biden reached out to McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson, urging them to vote in favor of the bill. However, both Republican leaders declined his request.

First vote

Earlier this year, Lankford, Sinema, and Murphy presented the bill with high hopes. They believed that the months of bipartisan negotiations had the potential to bring about the first immigration policy overhaul in decades.

However, Trump was against the measure. Once those senators made the legislative text public, House Republicans announced their support for the former president. As a result, Senate Republicans backed out of the deal that they had previously stated was necessary for the approval of a supplemental foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region.

The border security bill aimed to strengthen the requirements for migrants seeking asylum, provide clear guidelines for the White House’s parole authority, eliminate the practice of allowing migrants to reside in American communities while awaiting asylum hearings, and grant President Biden the power to temporarily close the southern border during periods of high asylum claims. These were just a few of the provisions included in the comprehensive legislation.

Dueling messages

On the day before Thursday’s vote, Senate Democrats and Republicans each held separate press conferences regarding the bill.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and other Democrats firmly believed that the bill, which had been negotiated earlier in the year, would effectively tackle the fentanyl crisis. They emphasized that the proposed measures, such as the implementation of new scanning technology at ports of entry and the augmentation of custom agent staffing, would play a crucial role in combating the issue.

Stabenow expressed her frustration with Senate Republicans constantly shifting the responsibility of addressing the border crisis onto others. She emphasized that the upcoming vote on Thursday would provide them with a chance to take action and address the situation at the southern border.

Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada joined her. They discussed the devastating impact of fentanyl overdoses in their respective states.

During their press conference, Republicans made the argument that Democrats were conducting a second vote in order to safeguard vulnerable incumbents who were running in highly competitive races in Montana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Tennessee GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn criticized the election-year political stunt orchestrated by our Democratic colleagues. She argued that it is a mere facade to give the impression of taking action on the problem without actually doing anything substantial.

Republican Senators Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rick Scott of Florida, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, John Coryn of Texas, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin joined her.

House opposition

During a press conference on Wednesday, the Louisiana Republican referred to the measure as a messaging bill and accused Schumer of attempting to provide cover for his vulnerable members.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Nanette Barragán of California, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, strongly criticized Senate Democrats for proposing the legislation and called on them to halt their efforts.

“The construction of this framework, orchestrated through Republican hostage-taking tactics, fails to address the long overdue updates required to modernize our outdated immigration system, establish additional legal pathways, and acknowledge the significant contributions that immigrants make to our communities and economy.”

Latino Democrats initially expressed their opposition to the bill due to its inclusion of several hard-line policies reminiscent of the Trump administration.

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