Sen. Cornyn defends using 'leverage' of vote against Ukraine aid to push for border policy changes


AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Billions of dollars in emergency foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is on hold, caught up in a clash between U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans, as GOP negotiators demand border and immigration changes in the package.

On Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass the defense aid package in a 49-51 vote. While the money for foreign allies has garnered bipartisan support in the upper chamber, Senate Republicans are blocking the package to gain leverage in their demands for including overhauls to border an immigration issues.

A classified briefing Tuesday for senators to discuss the White House’s request for Israel and Ukraine aid resulted in heated discussions and many Republican members storming out of the meeting. Much of the opposition to the legislation amongst senators is due to the lack of border security language.

“This is a unique circumstance where there are things that I support in the package, but I can’t and won’t support that proceeding to that until we get a satisfactory answer to the policy changes that we need at the border,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas in an interview with Nexstar prior to the vote.

Republicans have argued border reform is a national security issue and should therefore be in the package. The White House has warned Ukraine’s war effort against Russia could be hurt if it does not get the defense money it needs.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he is willing to make “significant compromises” on border policy in pursuit of the goal of getting urgent funding to the nation’s foreign allies. The White House offered Congress more than $13 billion to help clear up the asylum backlog, adding more immigration judges and border agents, but Republican negotiators have said it’s not enough.

Cornyn is no stranger to brokering deals on tough bipartisan policy issues but did not seem willing to fold on his party’s demands.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, unveiled the $110.5 billion national security supplemental funding package on Tuesday, outlining the importance of delivering humanitarian assistance within the Israel-Hamas War, efforts to stop fentanyl from entering the U.S., and more, over border security legislation.

“It’s past time for Senators to stop tying partisan and extreme immigration proposals to a broadly bipartisan supplemental,” Murray said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to realize that continuing to delay passage of a serious security supplemental—or failing to pass one—would be a massive gift to Putin, the Chinese Communist Party, and our adversaries around the world.”

Contrarily, Cornyn said he saw this as a point of leverage to address “the failure of the Biden administration’s policies.”

“We’re going to insist on policy changes to prevent the asylum system from being abused and to stop this practice of catch and release, which has resulted in so many people being released into the United States,” Cornyn said. “Given the porous nature of the border and the people coming across both known and unknown, I think this is a very dangerous situation.”

Cornyn said the vote puts the onus on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work with Republicans.

“He’s got a choice to make. Is he going to get the aid for Israel and Ukraine? And if so, then it’s going to cost him some policy changes on the border that help states like Texas and the entire country deal with this incredible humanitarian and public safety crisis,” Cornyn said.

Following the vote, Schumer, D-New York, slammed Republicans for not being “serious” with their intentions.

“Tonight is a sad night in the history of Senate and the history of our country,” Schumer said. “If Republicans in the Senate do not get serious very soon about a national security package, Vladimir Putin is going to walk right through Ukraine and right through Europe.”

Schumer and the Democrats offered Republicans to vote on an amendment on any border package they wanted as a resolution prior to the vote, but Republicans refused to move that forward.

Schumer said the offer still stands for Republicans and hopes legislators will break this impasse soon.

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