Biden roped in a Ukrainian border security aide, and it backfired

The White House portrayed it as a step toward compromise.

When President Biden sent his request to Congress last month for aid to Ukraine and Israel, he included a request for more money to help with security on the border with Mexico, a sweetener intended to both resolve the crisis and win Republican support.

But the move has now left Mr. Biden in the box.

By putting the issue on the table, he fueled demands from the right for sweeping changes to border policy, leaving his own party divided on a topic that many Democrats see as a political vulnerability heading into 2024 and further complicating the outlook for top foreign policy priorities.

The president signaled on Wednesday that he was open to further negotiations with Senate Republicans after they blocked his emergency spending bill.

Mr. Biden now faces a difficult choice of whether to engage in talks on an issue that has defied efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise for decades. And they will have to decide how far to go in giving in to conservative demands to significantly throttle the number of migrants admitted to the United States while their asylum claims are processed.

“The president of the United States should be involved,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “Everyone behind me will vote to help Ukraine if we can get the border straight.”

The White House has limited time to reach a compromise with Congress, whose members go into recess next week. Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told reporters he was prepared to continue talks through the weekend.

But on Thursday, Senate Republicans showed no signs of backing down.

Senior Biden administration officials have told both sides of the talks that the White House is open to making it harder to get asylum in the United States, according to four people familiar with the matter. One such measure would impose a stricter definition for migrants to meet when they claim they need asylum because they fear persecution in their home countries.

But Republicans say that’s not enough. They want the United States to impose a policy that would make most migrants ineligible for asylum and require them to wait in Mexico until their case is processed.

The impasse has left the heart of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy — support for the war in Ukraine — hanging in the balance.

“Obviously we are deeply concerned about this. We have a few more weeks here,” said John Kirby, a White House spokesman, about providing aid to Ukraine. “There are a small number of Republicans who want to hold that aid hostage for some pretty extreme border policies that the president is unwilling to talk about. In addition, he said that we are willing to negotiate in good faith.”

The president asked Congress on Wednesday to put aside “petty, partisan, angry politics” and pass the $111 billion bill. He said failure to do so could allow Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to regain momentum in the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he needs US funding to defend against a Russian invasion. Mr Kirby said on Thursday that the White House was “in no position to make that promise to Ukraine, given where things are on the Hill”.

Republicans, meanwhile, are turning their attention to migration at the southwest border, which has topped 8,000 crossings a day in recent days — and has become a major political liability for Mr. Biden.

Immigration advocates say the impasse is evidence that Mr. Biden should not have paired war funding with immigration reform in the first place.

“The strategic and substantive grouping of issues in the supplemental funding request was a catastrophic mistake because it was a signal, it was the beginning of what came true yesterday when the president said that immigrant communities are a bargaining chip,” said Heidi Altman, policy director. of the liberal National Center for Immigrant Justice. “That’s treason.”

Mr. Kirby said the White House did not regret grouping the administration’s foreign policy priorities with immigration in the bill because they were all “urgent in nature.”

“It was in our urgent national security request: $6 billion for the border. We share a sense of urgency, so act on it,” said Kirby.

Biden aides have consistently responded to Republican attacks on the border by pointing to a plan proposed early in the Biden administration that would establish a path to citizenship while increasing funding for the border. Republicans, they say, would rather use the migration crisis as a political weapon than compromise on a solution.

The White House drew backlash from both sides, highlighting the challenge of reaching a compromise on one of the most polarizing issues in domestic politics.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said in a statement co-signed by 10 other Senate Democrats that “using a one-time spending package to enact these unrelated permanent policy changes sets a dangerous precedent and risks helping our international partners.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, spoke for his GOP colleagues Thursday when he boasted about pushing immigration to the forefront of the national conversation. “Looks like we got the president’s attention,” he said.

Peter Baker, Eileen Sullivan, Karoun Demirjian and Hamed Aleaziz contributed reporting.

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