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Senate GOP blocks border bill, Democrats shift focus to Israel and Ukraine aid

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel on the day after the bipartisan Senate border security bill collapsed, at the Capitol in on Wednesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel on the day after the bipartisan Senate border security bill collapsed, at the Capitol in on Wednesday.

Updated February 7, 2024 at 3:06 PM ET

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will move to a "Plan B" to move aid to Ukraine and Israel following the failure of a vote to start debate on a bipartisan border security package.

Before the border vote Schumer, D-N.Y., released a new bill that stripped border provisions from the $118 billion bipartisan package. Schumer said he aimed to move forward with the legislation on Wednesday but the timing is unclear.

Senators huddled throughout the border vote to discuss a path forward. Some Republicans are requesting commitments on amendments or other concessions before deciding if they will agree to start debate on that bill.

Democrats blame Republicans for border bill failure

Schumer called out Republicans who demanded that aid to Ukraine be linked to changes in the Biden administration's border policies, only to walk away from a bipartisan proposal that a top GOP senator and Republican leadership aides were involved in crafting.

He said he still hoped they would agree to debate the border deal, but had lined up a backup plan in consultation with the White House to move the billions in money for Ukraine, Israel and humanitarian assistance for civilians impacted in conflict zones.

"Well, we're going to give them both options. We'll take either one. We just hope they can come to yes on something," Schumer said. He suggested to reporters he believed the national security funding bill minus the border deal had the 60 votes it would need to advance. He vowed there would be a "fair and open process on amendments."

Republicans mull a response

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., initially signaled he favored moving the legislation supporting key allies. He said he took direction from GOP colleagues to work on a border deal, but once the House speaker called it "dead on arrival," it was time to move on. "It looks to me and to most of our members that we have no real chance here to make a law," McConnell told reporters Wednesday about the bipartisan border legislation.

Many of the same Senate Republicans who insisted they wouldn't back a bill providing more money for Ukraine without changes to the country's asylum system quickly reversed themselves once former President Trump, the likely 2024 presidential nominee, publicly lobbied lawmakers to kill any border deal.

Schumer blamed Trump for congressional Republicans, who for four months argued for security changes at the border, quickly coming out against a deal and saying they would vote no.

"Donald Trump wants chaos. Donald Trump does not want success at the border," Schumer said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson sidestepped a question on whether he would allow a vote on the foreign assistance package if the Senate approved it.

"We'll see what the Senate does," Johnson told reporters.

The speaker suffered back-to-back embarrassments on Wednesday, when both a resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Aleyandro Mayorkas and a standalone bill providing $18 billion for Israel both failed.

Schumer alluded to the turmoil in the House GOP ranks, saying, "the House is in chaos. It doesn't behoove the speaker well to block everything because 30 hard-right people just want chaos like Donald Trump."

If the Senate does approve a national security funding bill, it's unclear whether it could pass the House. There is bipartisan support for additional money for both Ukraine and Israel, but a significant bloc of House Republicans oppose additional U.S. assistance for Ukraine. And one hard right lawmaker, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has threatened to oust the speaker if he allowed a vote to approve any more aid.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.