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Negotiation over U.S. border policy holds up aid to Ukraine and Israel

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden insists Ukraine and Israel both need more money from Congress.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That's what he says, but right now, a separate negotiation over border policy is holding all that up. Some House Republicans are insisting that they will not vote for Biden's latest Ukraine aid package unless it is attached to their preferred border security measures.

FADEL: NPR's Franco Ordoñez has been covering this from Capitol Hill, and he joins us now. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So immigration has been a difficult issue for Congress. What are they trying to achieve this time?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, these talks have been very different than they have in the past. I mean, for example, it's unlikely to include a path to citizenship or really any form of legalization for the undocumented, which has been a longtime goal for Democrats. The focus is instead on border security and specifically tightening the rules for asylum and making it harder for asylum-seekers to stay in the country while their cases can be decided. Now, Senator Thom Tillis - he's helping lead the negotiations for Republicans. He told us yesterday that Democrats don't want to recognize that the numbers in Congress have changed.

THOM TILLIS: They have to understand that we rightfully will get something more conservative than some of the deals that I negotiated in the last Congress. It hasn't quite set in yet to some of my friends who are looking at this on this side of Capitol Hill that we actually have control over one of the chambers.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, as negotiations move along, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is planning to hold a vote next week on some elements of this plan. But he really wants to force that along, and he hopes that will do it. But it's really not expected to pass. They really need more time.

FADEL: What about Democrats in the White House? No path for citizenship, no legalization - it doesn't sound like something that will resonate with their supporters.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, really, for sure. I mean, advocates have spoken out against these potential changes. They argue that it's going to remove key avenues for the most vulnerable to get to safety. And there's no question that these have been difficult discussions for the Democrats. I mean, Senator Dick Durbin told us yesterday he's very worried about an outcry from progressives. And here's Senator Chris Murphy talking about some of the challenges just yesterday.

CHRIS MURPHY: This is really hard. This is really hard. I wish Republicans weren't forcing us into this position.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, the dynamics have changed. I mean, the border crisis is not just a border issue anymore. Big cities like Chicago and York are scrambling to accommodate busloads of arriving migrants. And you have Democratic mayors, Democratic mayors and Democratic governors calling on Biden to do more on the border. Now, the White House - they say they're taking action, but it's also beating the drum about the crisis in Ukraine and the dangers of Vladimir Putin. Just yesterday, the White House warned that they probably have only until the end of the year before they run out of money to support Ukraine.

FADEL: So how is it that we got here? I mean, Ukraine has had strong bipartisan support for so long. Why such a dramatic change among Republicans all of a sudden?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, some of it has to do with the declining U.S. support for the war as it's dragged on. You also have a new speaker in the House who's much more aligned with the hard right. And that faction has increasingly been calling for an end to Ukraine funding. The new speaker - that's Mike Johnson - he's made it very clear to negotiators just this week that the House will not support a Ukraine deal unless there are specific changes to the border, significant changes. And while some have suggested Johnson could surely look to Democrats to get help to get the deal across the finish line, as Republicans tell us, that's just a recipe for Johnson losing his speakership job.

FADEL: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.