Senate Republicans hold Ukraine funding hostage to force Biden’s hand on immigration

The three senators attempting to negotiate a new immigration policy worked through the weekend with some progress, but nothing that could be voted on soon. Senate Republicans are extorting Democrats and President Joe Biden into making these policy changes in return for their votes on an urgently needed supplemental funding package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut continued talks with Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona independent representing mostly herself. The three made progress, Sinema said, but not enough to put it on paper for public discussion. Lankford, however, called a number of individual Republicans over the weekend to tell them they won’t have a resolution to all of the issues this month. That’s according to three sources who spoke with Punchbowl News.

Meanwhile, 15 far-right Republicans, led by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, sent a letter to their conference chair, John Barrasso of Wyoming, demanding a full conference meeting next month on what they called the “rushed and secret negotiations with Democrats.” Few of this group are likely to support Ukraine funding anyway, but they’re flexing their ability to gum up the works and to strengthen the House Republicans’ hand in this.

While the negotiations in the Senate continued, Biden administration officials finally met with members of the Hispanic caucus, which has thus far been excluded from talks. White House chief of staff Jeff Zients and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the lawmakers that they would be kept informed of progress. The danger for the White House is that they’ll accept some of the hard-line anti-immigrant policies the far right is pushing, and they’ll lose Democratic support—all while having no guarantees of enough Republican support to approve the Ukraine aid.

Relations are already on shaky ground. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stepped in it last Thursday in the daily press briefing when she asserted that the White House had been “in constant communication with Democrats and, obviously, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”

“The White House and the Administration have not been in constant communication with the CHC on these negotiations and their involvement,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragá of California said in a statement to NBC News. “As a matter of fact we’ve been the ones asking for meetings for weeks with the White House and Administration officials involved in the talks, as well as the President—and the White House has not been very responsive to our requests.”

That leaves the Senate hanging this week, with no big package to save Ukraine ready for the chamber to act on. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still likely to hold what at this point will be a symbolic procedural vote to advance it, which will likely fail. He’s also likely to try to advance the promotions of at least some of the 11 four-star military officers still being obstructed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville. Earlier this month, the Alabama Republican relented on his hold that blocked several hundred military promotions, but he is still obstructing the promotions of these high-ranking officers, forcing the Senate to go through the long process of considering each individually. That could take up the majority of the week in the Senate.

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