Butchers, Brewers, and Bakers
As McConnell cooks up another supplemental funding bill, conservatives prepare to hack it to pieces.
Twice in recent months, Republicans have thwarted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wishes. In September, the GOP Senate conference spoiled the Kentuckian’s scheme to attach $60 billion in Ukraine aid to the Senate version of the continuing resolution (CR). After Hamas’s brutal attack against Israel in early October, McConnell doubled down on his designs to fund foreign wars, partnering with President Joe Biden over his Republican colleagues to push for a twelve-figure supplemental aid package that covered Israel, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific, and (ostensibly) border security. House Republicans, under the new leadership of Speaker Mike Johnson, refused to do McConnell and Biden’s bidding and advanced a stand-alone bill to aid Israel.
One might think McConnell ought to pause and rethink his strategy after suffering two humiliating defeats, but it appears he’s lost control of his pausing, too. So, McConnell continues whipping up a hundred billion dollar pie to ensure all his favorite foreign nations get a slice.
“America faces grave national security challenges, beginning at home on our southern border,” McConnell tweeted Monday. “To pass the Senate, supplemental legislation to address threats from Iran, Russia, and China must also include serious policy changes to bring Washington Democrats’ border crisis under control.”
Nevertheless, McConnell does get one thing right: If Ukraine funding is not attached to aid to Israel or to border security, chances for more Ukraine aid before the end of 2023 or in the early part of 2024 are slim. While McConnell has staked his legacy on Ukraine funding and Ukraine’s eventual victory, an increasing number of Republican legislators and Republican voters are souring on America’s involvement in the Russia–Ukraine war. If McConnell wants to give Ukraine a big Christmas present, the provisions to secure the border must be strong enough to make Ukraine funding tolerable for the needed number of House Republicans.
Senate leadership has deputized a bipartisan group of six senators to negotiate the border provisions. Republicans made the initial offer in early November. Their proposal would have tightened asylum practices, parole policies, and resumed construction on the former President Donald Trump’s border wall. Democrats quickly and predictably rejected that offer, but it kicked off further talks of what the two sides thought could be done. While the group of senators—Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Michael Bennet of Colorado, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and, early on, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—failed to produce anything workable before the November 17 CR deadline, discussions continued through the Thanksgiving break.
The group has reportedly brewed up provisions aimed at tightening up the initial screening process for asylum applicants, but differences on how the government should handle humanitarian parole, a policy that allows the president to use his discretion to allow certain migrants into the U.S. who do not otherwise qualify for a visa, have presented negotiators with new challenges.
“I really think that movement on parole…is the key,” Tillis said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since this summer, the Biden administration has granted humanitarian parole to an average of 1,400 people per day. The administration claims this incentivizes migrants to enter at legal ports of entry, but has little to say about the policy incentivizing even more migrants to head north and further overwhelm the U.S. immigration system.
Time is running out for the Senate negotiators, however. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is ratcheting up pressure on Senate negotiators, hoping Republicans will take some border security measures off of their Christmas list. Schumer plans to move on a supplemental package for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and the border (whatever those provisions may be) as early as next week.
“One of the most important tasks we must finish is taking up and passing a funding bill to ensure we as well as our friends and partners in Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region have the necessary military capabilities to confront and deter our adversaries and competitors,” the New Yorker wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Sunday evening. “The biggest holdup to the national security assistance package right now is the insistence by our Republican colleagues on partisan border policy as a condition for vital Ukraine aid. This has injected a decades old, hyper-partisan issue into overwhelmingly bipartisan priorities,” Schumer added.
Even if the bipartisan group could find amenable terms, the problem for many House Republicans, as well as some conservative senators, is in the structure, not the substance. The Senate is acting as if a four-bucket supplemental, which, if it resembles anything like what the Biden administration requested in October, will be around or over $100 billion, is the only way Congress can tackle these issues. Conservatives want to see these issues separated out.
“A combined aid package is a nonstarter,” Senator Mike Lee of Utah told The American Conservative via email. “In submitting a four-part request, the administration attempts to coerce the Senate into signing another blank check for Ukraine while failing to prioritize our own national security interests. All of these requests should be able to stand on their own or not be considered at all.”
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky agrees. “Lumping $100 billion of foreign aid together in one bill and not offsetting the cost with spending cuts elsewhere is fiscally irresponsible and I will oppose any such bill. Adding $100 billion of debt only makes America weaker,” Paul said in an email to TAC.
“I wouldn't tie them together. Our border isn't something that should depend on what we're doing in Ukraine.” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told TAC in a telephone interview. “What they're going to do is try to jam it through 30 hours before forcing a vote on the floor of the Senate,” Roy said. “That's what they do.”
Roy said he “wouldn't even entertain the debate”: “If I were the Speaker of the House, I would not even entertain the debate about Ukraine. I wouldn't even allow the word to be mentioned if you've not secured the border of the United States. Frankly, I wouldn't put a bill on the damn floor until they secure the border of the United States, unless it was something that was a national emergency that you had to deal with.”
“Who cares what Mitch McConnell thinks,” Roy says with exasperation when asked about McConnell’s role in the push for sending more American taxpayer dollars overseas. “I'm being dead serious. Why does he matter? If I'm the Speaker of the House, I would make very clear, not $1 for Ukraine… And I'd be very clear about spending. Yeah, you're going to cut spending or you're going to get a 1% across the board cut right up the you know what.”
“The conflicts in Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan are fundamentally distinct. It is irresponsible to lump together aid for all three,” Anthony Fakhoury, press secretary for Rep. Lauren Boebert, told TAC via email. “People are tired of D.C. politicians combining everything into one package for their own convenience. Congresswoman Boebert has been fighting against this way of passing legislation since she arrived here.”
“Conservatives must stand firm and resist any attempts by Joe Biden and the Democrats to compromise on these issues,” Fakhoury added. “There is consensus that Israel is a top priority, and it is important to secure funding for Israel before engaging in discussions about other nations.”
“Chuck Schumer and the Republicans who want to try to cut a deal with Chuck Schumer in one of these classic gang-type situations will always produce garbage and try to sell it as not garbage,” Roy commented.
He was not alone in his view of the dynamics. “Republicans should be inherently skeptical of immigration policy coming from a bipartisan ‘gang.’ The House should not just accept whatever the Senate negotiates but should instead focus on enacting border policies to solve the Biden border crisis,” Bishop told TAC in a statement. “I’m highly skeptical that anything coming out of the current talks will improve the issue, because we need concrete policy changes to make a real difference. The House has passed H.R. 2, which contains the required policy changes. That’s what we need to pass. None of the outcomes from these bipartisan gangs would have fixed the issue.”
“With all due respect to the senators in question, they should look at H.R. 2, and they should tell Senator Schumer, if you want Ukraine, you will pass H.R. 2 and tell President Biden to sign it," Roy told TAC.
Senate Democrats claim H.R. 2 is a nonstarter. “We’re not going to pass H.R. 2,” Murphy said, per the WSJ. “I wish Republican demands weren’t so difficult,” the Connecticut senator added, “but we’re continuing to talk.”
Yet Roy and many House conservatives are all in on H.R. 2. “[Speaker Johnson] should make very clear, not $1 in Ukraine, not $1, ever again, will be put on the floor of the House of Representatives in this Congress unless you sign H.R. 2 into law—H.R. 2, or I might say its equivalent if it’s modestly modified on the edges.”
Major conservative institutions are also coming out against the supplemental package. Heritage Action for America took aim at Senate Republicans negotiating the border provisions of McConnell’s supplemental. “In June, all present Senate Republicans except one voted for H.R. 2, but now, a group of senators is undermining Republican unity and effective policy solutions by negotiating with Democrats who support open border policy,” Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage Action for America, said in a statement Tuesday. “House and Senate conservatives should reject this proposal and commit to supporting H.R. 2 to restore safety and security for the American people. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“There’s no reason that these things should be tied together,” Senator Rick Scott of Florida told TAC in a phone interview. “They shouldn’t be tying things to the National Defense Authorization Act or a bunch of things together for a supplemental because they’re such different issues.”
“We ought to be doing these things individually so we can have real conversations,” Scott continued. “We still aren’t having a lot of conversations about if we’re going to provide any funding for Ukraine, how's it going to be used.”
While he believes Republicans should separate out the contents of the proposed supplemental package, Scott wants to make Ukraine supplemental funding contingent on regaining control of the nation’s southern border.
“The Biden administration is a lawless administration,” Scott told TAC. “Without real benchmarks that would tie any funding for Ukraine to a reduction in the number of people coming across the border, it will just be window dressing because right now the Biden administration doesn’t comply with our existing border laws.”
“The logical thing to do is bring [the number of migrants crossing the border] down over the next 12 months to where it was when Trump left office and tie any funding on a monthly basis that is going to go to Ukraine to those monthly numbers coming down. It wouldn’t be back to Trump’s numbers first month, but it clearly ought to be back to Trump’s numbers by the 12 month,” Scott explained. “And if we don’t hit the numbers, then there won't be any Ukraine funding for that month.”
Scott thinks this would be popular with both Senate and House Republicans. “In my conversations with House members, they have a they have a bill that they want to make sure becomes law, H.R. 2, and they're receptive to this benchmark idea because they know, like I do, that the only way this is going to get fixed is if it's tied to real numbers,” Scott claimed.
Previously, Scott told TAC that the provisions being considered in the four-part supplemental were not border security provisions, but payouts for sanctuary cities and states who are having trouble dealing with the influx of migrants. Lee told TAC that Scott is “exactly right”: “The ‘border’ funding in this request provides shelter, transportation, and social services to migrants who are in this country illegally.”
Bishop also thinks Scott’s assessment is correct. “The administration will use any additional funds allocated to process and admit more illegal immigrants,” Bishop told TAC. “Americans are paying billions per year to house and process illegal immigrants, and the administration will do all it can to continue that policy.”
“Taxpayer funds should never go towards sanctuary cities,” Fakhoury wrote. “Congresswoman Boebert recently introduced an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2024 that would prohibit taxpayer funds from going towards sanctuary cities.”
“In FY23 alone, the U.S. captured over 150 individuals on the Terrorist Screening Database at our southern border,” Lee added. “Senate Republicans shouldn't consent to sending any more taxpayer dollars to secure other countries’ borders until we secure our own.”
Even if McConnell, Schumer, and Biden were to separate the supplemental package into appropriate chunks, there is still a question on whether or not these separate packages would have enough votes to pass.
Lee is paying close attention to the specific kinds of aid the supplemental would provide for Ukraine—as Scott previously noted, the Senate has not had robust debates about the particulars given the magnitude of the supplemental package.
“After two years of blank checks and no strategy, aid to Ukraine continues to deplete our defense stockpiles,” Lee told TAC. “The Biden administration is comfortable sending more weapons out the door—at the risk of our military readiness—than we have the funding and the capacity to replenish. If Leader Schumer chooses to put the President's supplemental request on the floor without significant changes, it would cement this disparity for the foreseeable future. Any aid packages before the Senate should, at minimum, provide for the complete replenishment of anything leaving U.S. stocks.”
When asked what Americans should pay particular attention to in the supplemental provisions, Roy told TAC that “we should provide no additional funding for them to process more people.”
“The uniparty in Washington doesn't give a damn about the people in South Texas and the people in Texas who are dealing with fentanyl deaths,” Roy yelled. That morning, the Texas congressman spoke to a young constituent from San Antonio who approached him in a coffee shop and “described the single adult males that are running from border patrol.”
“Why do you think they would be running away? Because they’re criminals. Because they’re dangerous individuals. And everybody needs to be put on notice in Washington: You will not advance anything at all that continues to advance this nonsense,” Roy said. “You will not move any other legislation unless you secure the border of the United States, and that particularly includes Ukraine. And you've got to deal with FISA in the meantime, fine, deal with FISA, but it better damn well be a reformed FISA, and none of this ‘oh, just clean extension of FISA to continue to spy on the American public.’”
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“Time is the best leverage we have in the Senate right now,” Lee argued. “Less than three weeks of the legislative session remain with many must-pass priorities, including appropriations bills, the National Defense Authorization, and FAA reauthorization on the calendar. Senate conservatives should be preparing to demand separate packages with separate votes—or run out the clock trying.”
“Why do we need to do anything else? What bills? You want to name some more freaking post offices?” Roy asked. “The Texans that I talked to are livid that we have not dealt with the border. It’s the number one thing we must deal with. We have dangerous individuals coming to the United States and we have Texans and Americans dying. I am not interested in any of the uniparty swamp Washington bullshit until we secure the border of the United States.”
“It ends, or shut your pie hole,” Roy concluded.