Democrats, Republicans, the border, and more money for Ukraine

You will notice this week that the debate over additional Ukraine aid is almost always framed as: “Those stubborn, intransigent, isolationist Republicans aren’t willing to help Ukraine.” And it is true enough that Republicans insist that one of their top priorities — border security — gets funded alongside the aid for Ukraine, as well as Taiwan and Israel.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said at a Wall Street Journal summit yesterday:

My message to [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] will be the same as it’s been to the president [Biden]. This is an important battle for all the reasons we know, but I don’t think it’s a radical proposition to say that if we’re going to have a national-security supplemental package, it ought to begin with our own national security.

But notice how rarely President Biden and congressional Democrats are portrayed as stubborn or intransigent for refusing to make the border-security changes that Republicans want, in order to reach a deal on Ukraine. And no, Republicans are not demanding the construction of a big, beautiful wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, although their offer does call for resuming the border-fencing construction that Biden canceled at the start of his presidency. Senate Republicans want the current overloaded system of asylum claims to be changed so that not everybody who shows up at the border and says they’re seeking asylum gets to stay in the country indefinitely.

From CBS News:

Senate Republicans’ demands include a set of restrictive changes to U.S. asylum law, including a rule that would render migrants ineligible for asylum if they transited through a third country without seeking refuge there before reaching American soil. Migrants would only be allowed to request protection at official ports of entry. Those screened for asylum under the expedited removal process would have to meet a higher evidentiary threshold during interviews to avoid being quickly deported.

The plan would also revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, requiring U.S. border officials to return migrants to Mexico pending a review of their claims if they can’t be deported or detained. Additionally, it would create a new authority similar to the now-defunct Title 42 pandemic-related order that would allow immigration agents to summarily expel migrants if doing so was deemed necessary to achieve “operational control” of the southern border.

If you think that’s some sort of mad, xenophobic proposal, let’s check in with two senators who are usually portrayed as reasonable voices for common sense. Let’s start with our new favorite Democratic senator, John Fetterman.

From Axios:

“I hope Democrats can understand that it isn’t xenophobic to be concerned about the border,” Fetterman said in an interview. “It’s a reasonable conversation, and Democrats should engage.”

Fetterman, a progressive favorite, urged Democrats to acknowledge the large numbers of migrants streaming across the southern border. He cited the nearly 270,000 border encounters that U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported in September.

“Honestly, it’s astonishing. And this isn’t a Fox News kind of statistic. This is the government’s,” he said. “You essentially have Pittsburgh showing up there at the border.”

Fetterman isn’t on board with everything in the GOP proposal, and he dismissed the House Republicans’ legislation as a “wish list.” But by describing the problem in such a memorable, succinct way — “you have roughly a city similar in size of Pittsburgh coming up to the border” every month — he’s emphasizing the urgency of the problem and pushing for some sort of compromise action.

Now let’s turn our attention to Mitt Romney and his appearance on Meet the Press this Sunday:

Kristen Welker: The Senate has one week left to negotiate this aid package for Israel and Ukraine. Republicans are holding a hard line on border security. What are the implications of not passing aid to Ukraine right now, Senator?

Senator Romney: Well, I don’t know specifically how quickly the money has to get to Ukraine, the armament has to get to Ukraine, whether we could wait until January, but I can say just a couple of things. One is, it’s not just Republicans that are holding a hard line. It’s Democrats [that] are holding a hard line. Either side can move and can get this done. And here’s the position of my side and our side. And that is we have gone from 1,000-2,000 encounters — illegal encounters — at the border a day under the three prior presidents, under Bush, Obama, and Trump — 1,000-2,000 a day. Now we’re seeing 10,000 to 12,000 a day. As Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman said, we’re basically seeing Pittsburgh show up at the border every month, all right. We’re at a rate of incursions into the country of about four million a year. That’s larger than the population of 24 of our states. So, we want to solve that to secure the border. I just saw the President of the United States say that we’ve got to secure the border. He’s right. So, any effort that doesn’t do that will be rejected by Republicans. We want to get it back to the level that existed under the three prior presidents.

Welker: And I guess and you’re right, I know that this is a priority for Republicans. And you’re right, President Biden has said he’s willing to negotiate. It was described to me, you have to get through all of the disagreement around the border to even start addressing the Ukraine and Israel piece of it. Taking it a step back. What message do you think it sends to President Putin, to President Xi, when they see that there are a growing number of Republicans who are opposed to writing what they say is a blank check to Ukraine?

Romney: Well, we’re not going to write a blank check. We’re going to evaluate exactly how the money is spent. What we’re going to do is provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to defend themselves against a brutal invasion by Putin, who is a thug and a murderer. So, that’s what we’re going to do. Now, I think Putin and Xi recognize that democracy is messy, that our system is not authoritarian. We don’t have a king. We don’t have a dictator. They’re dictators. They like to make a big deal out of the process that we go through. But you know what? It has worked for America in the past. It will work in the future. We’ll get through this. And ultimately, don’t forget the President was the one that put the put the border and the border security issue as part of this package. This is not a Republican issue. He brought it to the front, and that’s why we’re dealing with it.

Above, we saw Romney put together a more-than-fair, fact-based critique of the Democrats’ position. Unless you watched Meet the Press this weekend, I suspect this is the first you’ve heard about what Romney said. But Romney also called Donald Trump a “human gumball machine” — “A thought or a notion comes in, and it comes out of his mouth. There’s not a lot of filter that goes on. There’s not a lot of, ‘What’s the implication?’ No, no. He just says whatever” — and I’ll bet you heard more about that.

When Romney criticizes other Republicans, he’s treated as an insightful, wise statesman who’s putting the national interest first. When Romney criticizes Democrats, the press averts its eyes and looks at the sky. He’s the same guy, folks.

Not only are additional border fencing, enhanced security measures, and changes to the asylum process in the national interest, congressional Republicans are basically throwing a life preserver to the Biden administration that is drowning as it faces a crisis at the border. All of the polling on this issue is bad for Biden and his administration; this ranks among the president’s biggest liabilities heading into 2024.

From the WSJ:

A new Wall Street Journal poll conducted in late November and early December found that 64 percent of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of border security. That is the highest disapproval since the Journal began asking the question in March 2022. When broken down by party, roughly 33 percent of Democrats and 91 percent of Republicans disapprove.

In the latest CBS News poll released this weekend, “Immigration and the border” was ranked the most important issue by 20 percent of Americans, ranking second behind “inflation.”

Republicans are basically Jerry McGuire at this moment: “Help me help you.” If the asylum changes and border fencing bring down the waves of migrants at the border, it increases the odds of Biden winning reelection. And Biden refuses to take the help!

Is it worth it to the Biden administration to lose the Ukraine war to avoid enacting those changes?

Let’s also note that the Biden administration is emphasizing how important it is that Congress pass additional funding quickly . . . while the administration moves as fast as molasses in getting some of the weapons systems over there. The Wall Street Journal editorial board lays out how the Biden administration has approved sending High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems about a year after the Ukrainians asked for them, Patriot missile-defense systems more than a year after the Ukrainians asked for them, and 31 Abrams tanks eight months after the Ukrainians asked for them.

Apparently, helping Ukraine is an urgent matter when it comes to Congress passing the funding, but not so urgent when it comes to Biden actually sending the weapons.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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