Congress unlikely to finish work on Ukraine, border deal this year

Senate negotiators are meeting on a daily basis to reach a deal on the border security measures demanded by House and Senate Republicans as a condition of passing President Joe Biden’s $106 billion supplemental aid package that includes support for Ukraine and Israel.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer canceled at least a week of holiday recess for negotiations to continue, hoping the weekend talks could keep up momentum.

But negotiators see tough odds for releasing full legislative text of the bill with enough time to allow a successful vote this month, though the negotiators could also release a framework of an agreement to show progress.

“Both Republican and Democratic members deserve to see text and be able to consider it before they vote,” Murphy said. “We’re trying to craft something that gets a big bipartisan vote and that can’t happen unless you listen to your colleagues.”

GOP senators blocked Biden’s supplemental spending request earlier this month because it lacked border security policy changes, which have been exceedingly difficult to agree on in a starkly divided Congress where immigration reform attempts fail regularly.

A push to find agreement before the holiday break has added extra pressure to negotiators, as has Ukraine’s urgent call for more U.S. aid as the war against Russia drags on.

On Sunday, the three negotiating senators met with top aides to Senate leaders and Biden administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

On Sunday morning, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had told GOP senators there were “significant issues still under discussion,” warning a potential vote this week will fail if the sticking points aren’t fully resolved.

There is a “lot of very technical work on drafting which takes time to get right,” McConnell wrote in the note to Republican senators, obtained by POLITICO and co-signed by Lankford. “Without text and sufficient time to review it, [a vote this week] would not succeed.”

Lankford said Sunday evening after talks broke that his assessment in that note was unchanged.

Schumer can quickly force another vote to advance Biden’s foreign aid request this week, but the internal message said “no firm decision has been made on having that vote.” Instead, McConnell wrote that “it looks like we are headed into votes on nominations this week.” It appears the chamber will focus this week on extending an expiring FAA bill and top-level military nominations.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative senators is trying to put the brakes on “rushed and secret negotiations” behind the scenes, calling in a separate letter Sunday for a Republican conference meeting on Jan. 8 — when the House is scheduled to come back in session. The House is not expected to return sooner, even if there’s a deal in the Senate.

Sinema said those comments are to be expected: “All senators would say that they want to review text and read it and understand it before voting on it.”

Several senior Republican senators, including John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Sunday television shows before the border talks that they doubted the closed-door discussions could produce an outcome this year.

There are several complex policy details to still sort through, according to two people familiar with the talks who were granted anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations.

Negotiators have so far agreed on raising the standard under which immigrants can seek asylum by claiming a credible fear in their home country. Other issues still under discussion include an expedited removal process and new expulsion authorities.

Republicans also continue to push for policies that Democrats largely object to, including a transit ban, changes to class-based parole authority and triggers that would automate a border shutdown, adding another complicated layer to the talks.

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