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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a press conference following the Republicans' weekly political luncheon on January 23, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid out the growing hurdles to a national security package as the GOP remains deeply divided over immigration and Ukraine – and as former President Donald Trump has encouraged Republicans to reach a bipartisan compromise on new ones Closing border security laws.
According to a Republican source familiar with the matter, McConnell told Republicans at a private meeting on Wednesday that they were in a “predicament” as bipartisan talks on immigration had led to intraparty disputes and potentially blocked the path to approval of a massive package this congress.
The new doubts from the Senate Republican leader – one of the leading advocates for more aid to Ukraine – suggest that Congress may need to address the issues as a whole or break the package into individual parts, although no decisions have been made yet. McConnell's goal at the meeting, sources said, was to make it clear to his colleagues that there was no clear path forward unless members were willing to compromise.
The new doubts come as House Republicans – backed by Trump, who has denounced immigration as a top election issue – revolt over the bipartisan talks even before they are complete. Republicans were already divided over whether to approve aid to Ukraine, although they insisted that the border needed to be resolved before aid to Ukraine could be approved. Additionally, House Republicans' push to pass their border security bill – HR 2 – is a non-starter with Democrats.
The frank assessment, previously reported by Punchbowl News, underscores growing fears that Congress will be unable to approve aid to Ukraine — or pass legislation to stem the influx — at a critical moment in its war against Russia Contain migrants at southern border.
During the meeting, McConnell read a quote from Trump in 2018 that cast doubt on whether Democrats ever voted for border security. This was a message to his GOP colleagues that this may be the best opportunity for Republicans in decades to achieve border security.
“He did a good job of quoting Donald Trump, who said in 2018 that we will never get a Democrat to vote for this [border] Stuff,” said Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
Senate Republicans engaged in a lengthy closed-door debate over the future of U.S. aid to Ukraine, but Republicans remained divided over the best path forward as lawmakers continue to bicker over how to pass a bill supporting the Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the USA could bring the border across the finish line.
“We have expressed our views thoroughly,” said Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said at this point he thought he had a good sense of where everyone was in the conference, but there had been no comprehensive resolution.
“It was one of the most thoughtful and sincere emotional discussions we have ever had. I think we're going to have a conference that's too divided on Ukraine, but we're united on securing the border,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas.
Rising GOP members said it's less about finding a unified position (there isn't one) and more about giving members a chance to make their point and engage in debate. Members also said McConnell played the role of “historian in the room,” reminding the conference of where they once were and the opportunity that existed at the border.
“He's thoughtful and understands the historical situation of the country and it's very instructive when he does those things, when he reminds us of other missed opportunities, how far James Lankford has taken us further than we ever have in 30 years,” said Cramer.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who is among those supporting more aid, said he just wanted to remind his colleagues that there are consequences for doing nothing.
“It won’t take decades to regret it. This will be the case in a few years, and that is why I will remind the people who, if successful, decided to permanently leave Ukraine – as long as I breathe – of the consequences that I am convinced we will have to live with,” Tillis said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah who supports U.S. support for the war effort in Ukraine, said Senators Jerry Moran, Jim Risch and Susan Collins had made rousing appeals in support of the effort.
Cramer told reporters that Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, actually played a clip of the late Sen. John McCain talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Crimea.
But for many in the GOP conference, it's a delicate balance.
“We must find a way to sustain this fight without weakening our capabilities around the world. I don't think this strategy should last as long as it costs. That's neither realistic nor wise, but we can't walk away when we're done, because we'll pay a price for that too,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Asked if the meeting was tense, Rubio laughed and said, “Compared to what?” Recalling that Tuesday's lunch was lively and boisterous, Rubio quipped, “That's not tense. Just because they don’t allow us knives and forks anymore.”
Rubio reminded reporters that this was a joke.
CNN's Sam Fossum contributed to this report.