Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Kyiv Monday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his defense ministers. The aim of the trip was to deliver the message to Ukraine and its allies that its war to repel the Russian invasion “matters to the rest of the world,” and that the U.S. is committed “for the long haul.” At the same time, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is at the Halifax International Security Forum warning global leaders of the nasty fight brewing in Congress over continued Ukraine aid, with Republicans demanding big changes to immigration policy in return for their support.
“Each of the groups that we’ve talked to—we’ve said this is going to determine whether or not there’s funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan,” Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, told Punchbowl News. “Because how do you go back home and say you’re justifying their defense but you’re not protecting our own southern border? Without the border being addressed appropriately, nothing is going to move.”
The problem is that Republicans are demanding far more than just more border security funding. They want a change to U.S. immigration policy, making it harder for immigrants to gain asylum protection. They also want a significant decrease in the number of people allowed into the country. If that’s the case, Democrats have countered, it will also need to address their long-sought immigration reforms.
“There’s a reason why we haven’t done bipartisan immigration reform in 40 years,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is in on the negotiations, told reporters Thursday, adding that it is even “harder” than the gun safety measures he worked on last year. “I’m not confident we’ll get there,” he said. “Our party doesn’t view the issue of immigration as just an issue that’s happening at the border,” he said. “We care about Dreamers, and we care about how long it takes to get a final conclusion. We care about legal immigration numbers.”
One of the Republicans in the negotiations, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, insists that’s not on the table. “We’re talking about border security,” said Tillis, adding that Dreamers won’t be included. “That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about fixing a problem that’s so pronounced at the border that we can’t even have a discussion about that population right now because this administration’s allowed the problem to get so bad.”
Again, what’s supposed to be the heart of this is whether Ukraine can fight and win against Russia, and keep the totalitarian Putin at bay in Europe. Further complicating that issue, a handful of House Republicans are now insisting that the funding for Taiwan in the supplement funding package President Joe Biden requested be increased. The White House asked for $2 billion out of the $106 billion emergency aid request to go to Taiwan, and these members want $12 billion.
That complication comes as the Pentagon’s ability to continue Ukraine military aid dwindles; it’s running out of money and weapons. That means the military assistance to Ukraine is being rationed. “You have seen smaller packages because we need to [parcel] parse these out,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday. “Because we don’t know when Congress is going to pass our supplemental package.”
There’s a definite deadline built in: the end of this year. That time crunch is made even greater because there are just 12 legislative days scheduled between now and the end of the year, and a massive amount of work to be done.
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