Sinema ‘can see the deal’ on Ukraine-border as Schumer cuts recess

“There was a time when we were not making progress. It was feeling stalled,” Sinema said in an interview on Thursday. “And what I did at that point was provide my honest assessment to folks about what I believed needed to happen for us to get out of that stall and move forward.”

A few days after that assessment, Schumer told senators they would not go on recess as planned Thursday. The majority leader said the Senate will vote to advance President Joe Biden’s supplemental request next week, and the hope is that there is at least a framework border agreement to go with it.

But the overtime session is not without controversy in the Senate, as Republicans say that negotiators are nowhere close on a deal. Several complained about the tactical decision to keep trying when it’s not even clear the House will take the legislation up. Others said it’s possible some senators wouldn’t show up next week. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) predicted “it’ll take weeks or months to go through it once we get it in writing.”

Meanwhile, the House left on Thursday and some senators are worried a Senate-only deal has no shot in the other chamber. Republicans also attacked Democrats for declining to budge on major reforms for parole, a tool that presidents use to allow immigrants’ entry into the United States.

“We’re still very far apart. There is no deal imminent; some modest progress has been made,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is among the Republicans being briefed on the negotiations.

Sinema, Murphy and Lankford have declined to tell reporters any specifics, keeping the discussions highly opaque. But negotiators have discussed new expulsion authority, nationwide expedited removal and mandatory detention, and there is broad agreement on asylum changes.

Those potential policy changes are making progressive Democrats and immigration advocates nervous. There is almost no discussion of legalizing migrants, which has been the lynchpin of previous immigration negotiation efforts.

“I don’t know anything about the substance,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who also chairs the Judiciary Committee and has expressed concern about the direction of talks. “They’re having serious and positive conversations. They’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Sinema cautioned that every word in legislation is going to matter and declined to sketch out a timeline beyond moving with “all deliberate speed.”

“While we’re making progress, words matter and details matter, more so here than in almost any other area of law,” she said. “It’s incredibly complex. One word wrong could change the entire meaning of a statute and could cause lots and lots of litigation.”

Cotton and other Republicans said that the White House has declined to even offer its proposals on a sheet of paper at this point, further confusing the negotiations. Yet there still seems to be some momentum, and Schumer challenged his critics by saying that if senators “believe something is important and urgent, we should stay and get the job done.”

Biden administration officials, aides to Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Sinema, Lankford and Murphy have all been in hours-long meetings that they say have been productive. McConnell and Schumer have met in each others’ offices twice this week, including to discuss the adjustment to the schedule.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, OMB Director Shalanda Young, Office of Legislative Affairs Director Shuwanza Goff and other senior advisers are involved in the conversations, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. She added that talks are “going in the right way,” and Biden administration officials have set the end of the calendar year as their deadline for an agreement.

“There is a reason to stick around: The Ukrainian people have been dying in the service of democracy for the last two years,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is party to the talks. “So I don’t see a reason for us to leave.”

Still, Senate recesses are sacred to senators and the shift produced plenty of grumbling in the GOP ranks. Many GOP senators will oppose any deal that includes as much as $60 billion in Ukraine money, and those that might support it are still unhappy with Democrats’ position.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said that senators can stay if they’re making progress, but “otherwise, maybe Democrats should go home and listen to some of their constituents about an open border.” Other Republicans said that negotiations could continue over phone, email and text over the recess.

Ultimately, that argument did not resonate with Democrats.

“What’s alarming me is all these supposedly pro-Ukraine Republican senators are extremely chill and looking forward to the holidays,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “I’m not one to begrudge people time with their families. But we’re not done negotiating.”

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