A group of Senate Republicans is growing weary of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership as they aired their grievances over what they called a “dead” bipartisan border bill slated for the first floor procedural vote on Wednesday.
While Republicans were generally critical of Senate leadership, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the only Republican who explicitly told reporters during a press conference Tuesday, “I think it is,” when asked if it’s time for McConnell to step down.
Other GOP senators in attendance — including Sens. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., Eric Schmitt, R-Mo, Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, Rick Scott, R-Fla., — agreed Tuesday afternoon in a press conference that McConnell, R-Ky, should have “walked away” from the border agreement, which they argue expands President Biden’s power and does not fully close the border.
“We’re not committing ourselves to voting for this thing just because we entered the negotiation, and you hear this from some of our leadership – and hopefully they will stop – the idea that we committed to supporting whatever came out of this negotiation is pure, unadulterated bulls—,” said Vance, one of Congress’ loudest critics against Ukraine assistance.
He added, “We supported a negotiation to bring commonsense border security to this country. We did not agree to a border fig leaf to send another $61 billion to Ukraine.”
Cruz, a staunch critic of McConnell since 2013, said the long-standing leader offered no response when he asked him, “Is there anything we are willing to fight on?” regarding the closed-door border negotiations that began in December, which Republicans are now determined to tarnish.
“Everyone here also supported a leadership challenge to Mitch McConnell in November,” Cruz said. “I think a Republican leader should actually lead this conference and should advance the priorities of Republicans.”
Fox News Digital has reached out to McConnell’s office for comment. Following the GOP luncheon on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters, “I think we can all agree that Sen. Cruz is not a fan.”
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the lead Republican negotiator, has been facing pushback from the caucus over the deal that was struck with Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Biden administration officials. More than 20 Republicans have already vowed to strike down the bill on Wednesday, arguing they need “adequate time” for amendments and further analysis.
Meanwhile, Republicans are also hanging onto a post Murphy posted on X on Sunday after the text was released, which read, “The border never closes, but claims must be processed at the ports.” Cruz contended the Biden administration already has the ability to shut down the border and turn migrants away under the current immigration laws.
“His first week in as president, he halted construction on the border wall, he reinstated the disastrous policy of ‘catch and release’ and he pulled out of the unbelievably successful remain in Mexico agreement that caused this explosion,” Cruz said. “It also means Joe Biden could solve it tomorrow by reversing those three decisions.”
The only way, Cruz said, the border bill would make it across the finish line in the national supplemental package is if the Senate passed H.R.2 – the GOP-led House’s immigration bill passed last year – which includes Trump-era style expulsions and security measures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already deemed the bill a “nonstarter” in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House has repeatedly called the Senate’s border bill “dead on arrival” – making it a near-impossible scenario that a border security bill gets passed.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., an unsuccessful contender against McConnell in the last election, said “a few people negotiated” the border, when it should have been open to the entire GOP conference to offer amendments.
“McConnell decided we’re not going to have something that forced a lawless administration to secure the border, and so this is where we are,” he said.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., another “no” vote on Wednesday, told reporters that McConnell was “fatally flawed” when he “entered into this secret negotiation with Schumer.”
“It normalizes thousands of people a day,” Johnson said. “It probably undermines the future president’s ability to secure the border by having things like a discretionary threshold.”
Vance added that Lankford was at a disadvantage in the negotiations because the White House “has more lawyers” compared to the Republican senator’s team.
“So, on the one hand, you have the Democratic majority, you have the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, you have the army of lawyers that they have,” Vance said. “And on the other hand is James Lankford, his staff negotiating in secret. The idea that any person could negotiate successfully through a border security package that wouldn’t have multiple loopholes in it is crazy. These guys had a massive advantage. It was a huge mistake.”
Other Republicans during Tuesday’s press conference, including Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah, also spoke out against the bill that they say has a “whole lot of loopholes.”
“Loopholes through which you could drive a Mack truck, a 747, and an Airbus A-380 simultaneously through them, and that’s concerning,” said Lee, who was among the first to criticize the deal.
Marshall defended Lankford and said not even “Henry Kissinger could have negotiated a better deal with the cards that he was dealt.”
“This is not on the back of James Lankford,” he said. “I’m not going to speak for James, I think his hope was that we could take this bill and amend it and make it better. But I’m afraid it’s not close enough to do anything but stop the life support and pronounce it dead.”
The proposed legislation, released Sunday evening after months of negotiations, totals just over $118 billion with 50,000 new visas. Biden’s original request amounted to around $106 billion.
On Tuesday, Biden said the border package “doesn’t address everything” he would have liked, such as creating a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already living in the U.S. However, he called it the “toughest, fairest law that has ever been proposed relative to the border.”
“I’m calling on Congress to pass this bill, get it to my desk immediately,” Biden said. “But if the bill fails … every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends.”
During negotiations, Trump urged senators on his platform, Truth Social, to reject a deal “unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people.”
Republicans are concerned the bill does not flatly reduce the number of border crossings to zero. The bill’s provisions come into effect when there is an average of 5,000 or more daily encounters with illegal immigrants over a seven-day period or, alternatively, when a combined total of 8,500 or more aliens are encountered on any single calendar day.
The bill would earmark $20 billion to immigration enforcement, including the hiring of thousands of new officers to evaluate asylum claims, as well as hundreds of Border Patrol agents. Some of the taxpayer funds would go to bailing out shelters and services in cities across the U.S. that have struggled to keep up with the influx of migrants in recent months.
However, the bill states that if the president “finds that it is in the national interest to temporarily suspend the border emergency authority, the President may direct the Secretary to suspend use of the border emergency authority on an emergency basis.” The “border emergency,” triggered at 5,000 crossings per day within a week, could be overturned by the president.
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