Border Bill Fails Senate Test Vote As Democrats Seek To Underscore Republican Resistance

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2023, during the National Police Week at the National Mall in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2023, during the National Police Week at the National Mall in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans again blocked a bill meant to clamp down on the number of migrants allowed to claim asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought Thursday to underscore GOP resistance to the proposal.

The legislation, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, was already rejected by most Republicans in February when it was linked to a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. But with immigration and border security becoming one of the top issues of this year's election, Democrats are looking for an answer to the barrage of GOP attacks, led by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“We gave Republicans a second chance to show where they stand,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said after the vote. “Do they want to fix this so-called emergency or do they want to show blind allegiance to the former president even when they know he's wrong?”

Schumer is trying to defend a narrow Senate majority in this year's election and sees the Republican's rejection of the deal they negotiated as a political “gift” for Democrats. Seeking to highlight Republican resistance to popular measures, Schumer is also planning to push forward a bill in June that would protect access to contraception.

The Democratic leader said it would “show the public who’s on what side and in June we’re going to spend a significant amount of time talking about reproductive rights.”

On Thursday, most Senate Democrats again supported the procedural vote to begin debate on the border bill, but it failed to advance 43-50 after all but one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against it. When the proposal was brought up in February, the test vote failed 49-50 — well shy of the 60 votes needed to advance.

This time, not even some of the bill's primary authors, Sens. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, voted for Schumer's move.

“Today is not a bill, today is a prop,” Lankford said on the floor ahead of the vote. “Everyone sees it for what it is.”

Sinema called the vote “political theater” that will do nothing to solve problems at the border.

“To use this failure as a political punching bag only punishes those who were courageous enough to do the hard work in the first place," she said.

Republican leaders spent much of the week decrying the vote as a bald-faced political maneuver and amplifying a well-worn criticism of President Joe Biden: That he bears responsibility for the historic number of migrants who have made their way to the U.S. in recent years.

“We're nearing the end of President Biden' s term, and the American people's patience for his failing to secure the southern border is running thin,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Earlier in the week, McConnell told reporters, “The president needs to step up to it — do everything he can do on his own because legislation is obviously not going to clear this year."

Since the collapse of the Senate's legislation in February, the Biden administration has been considering executive orders on border policy and immigration. It has already made some changes to the asylum system meant to speed up processing and potential removal of migrants. Yet the Senate's test vote this week was widely seen as part of a lead-up to Biden issuing more sweeping border measures, potentially as early as June.

Following the failed vote, Biden in a statement said that he was “committed to taking action to address our broken immigration system.”

He also slammed Republicans for blocking the bill, saying, it showed they “do not care about securing the border or fixing America’s broken immigration system.”

The Democratic president has considered using a provision in federal immigration law that gives leeway to block entry of certain immigrants into the U.S. if it would be “detrimental” to the national interest of the United States. The authority was repeatedly tapped by Trump when he was in the White House, but some of those actions faced legal challenges.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters Monday that legislation to address problems at the border — as opposed to executive actions by the president — would be more effective. The Senate legislation would provide more money for Customs and Border Protection officials, asylum officers, immigration judges and scanning technology at the border — all things that officials have said the underfunded immigration and border protection system needs.

“The legislation provides tools that executive action cannot,” Mayorkas said.

The Senate bill is aimed at gaining control of an asylum system that has sometimes been overwhelmed in the last year. It would provide faster and tougher enforcement of the asylum process, as well as give presidents new powers to immediately expel migrants if the numbers encountered by border officials exceed an average of 4,000 per day over a week.

Even before the bill was fully released earlier this year, Trump effectively killed the proposal by labeling it “meaningless” and a “gift” for Biden's reelection chances. Top Republicans soon followed his lead and even McConnell, who had initially demanded the negotiation over the border measures, voted against moving forward.

A significant number of Democrats have also criticized the proposal, mostly because it does not include any broad relief for immigrants who have already established lives in the United States. On the left, four Democrats, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent of Maine, voted against advancing the bill.

“It fails to address the root causes of migration or to establish more lawful pathways,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a statement this week that the Senate's bill “fails to meet the moment by putting forth enforcement-only policies and failing to include provisions that will keep families together.” They have urged executive actions that would provide protections from deportation for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years or who have family ties to U.S. citizens.

Amid the tension, Biden's reelection campaign met with CHC leadership Wednesday to discuss outreach to Latino communities, and Biden spoke on the phone with Rep. Nanette Barragán, the chair of the group. She discussed the reasons for the group's opposition, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

Schumer said that if Democrats win majorities in the Senate and House next year, he wants to advance “comprehensive immigration reform."

Still, for Democratic senators facing tough reelection battles this year, the vote Thursday provided another opportunity to show they were supportive of stronger border measures as well as distance themselves from Biden's handling of the border.

As Sen. Jon Tester attempts to hold a Democratic seat in the red-leaning state of Montana, he said in a statement, “This common sense bill would push back on the Biden administration’s failed border policies by forcing the president to shut down the border, strengthen our asylum laws, and end catch and release.”