Happy Monday! We’ll always remember what we were doing the moment we heard Senate negotiators had released the text of the Emergency National Security Supplemental Bill.
Up to Speed
- President Joe Biden cruised to victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary Saturday with 96 percent of the vote, while challengers Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota collected about 2 percent each. The Palmetto State now hosts the first primary on the Democratic nominating calendar after the Democratic National Committee, at Biden’s behest, rearranged the party’s calendar to push back Iowa to March 5 and deem the New Hampshire primary unsanctioned.
- Donald Trump knifed longtime ally Ronna McDaniel during an interview with Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business Network that aired Sunday. Per an Associated Press report of the conversation, the former president had this to say of the about the Republican National Committee chairwoman whom he appointed soon after winning the presidency in 2016 and has supported ever since, even as some RNC members pushed for new leadership atop the committee: “I think she did great when she ran Michigan for me. I think she did OK, initially, in the RNC. I would say right now, there’ll probably be some changes made.”
- House Speaker Mike Johnson is trying to short-circuit a compromise border security and national security package by offering a standalone bill to provide $17.6 million in military aid to Israel. The effort is a reversal of the Louisiana Republican’s position immediately following the Hamas terror attack on the Jewish state in October, when he moved legislation offsetting funds for Israel with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service opposed by most Democrats. However, Bloomberg reports Johnson’s new plan is now facing significant dissent from Republicans, especially the insurgent House Freedom Caucus.
- Nikki Haley raised $16.5 million in January, Axios reports. The impressive haul materialized even as the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations finished a distant third to Trump in the January 15 Iowa caucus and lost to the former president by 11 percentage points in the January 23 New Hampshire primary. Over the weekend, Haley made a surprise guest appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, asking James Austin Johnson’s Donald Trump character during the show’s opening sketch why he won’t debate her. Polling continues to look grim for Haley in the February 24 South Carolina primary, as do her prospects against Trump nationally.
- Republican lobbyist Jeff Miller is organizing a fundraiser for the Trump campaign that now counts more than 100 GOP members of the House and Senate as “hosts.” According to a copy of the invitation, the March 6 evening event in Washington is to be headlined by Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, and requires hosts to donate $10,000, co-hosts to contribute $5,000 and individuals who want to attend to give $1,000. Miller, a close ally and personal friend of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was a top Trump fundraiser during the 2020 campaign.
Senate Ukraine/Israel/Border Deal Blows Up on Launchpad
Shortly before 7 p.m. last night and after months of talks, Senate negotiators finally released the text of their ambitious $118 billion compromise package to fund aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan along with new border security funding. By 9 p.m., the package was all but dead.
“I’ve seen enough,” House Speaker Mike Johnson tweeted. “This bill is even worse than we expected, and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the president has created.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority leader who controls the floor of the House, agreed: “The Senate Border Bill will NOT receive a vote in the House,” he wrote.
Whether it will get even that far is an open question. The Senate is likely to vote on the bill this week, but some Republicans in that chamber, including Sens. Mike Lee and Josh Hawley, have already savaged the package as well.
The financial toplines of the bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee include $62 billion of new aid to Ukraine, $20 billion for border security and to combat drug trafficking, and $14 billion of military aid to Israel. There’s also billions allotted for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and Ukraine to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific and to “address combat expenditures related to conflict in the Red Sea.”
But, perhaps oddly, it’s the changes to border policy that have many Republicans so steamed. The bill’s advocates argue that it offers desperately needed improvements to the central weakness of current U.S. immigration policy: the overrun, backlogged asylum system, under which a greater number of migrants wait longer times for a date with a judge who can decide whether they qualify to stay under asylum law. The backlog creates its own perverse incentives. For a migrant, getting an asylum court date is currently tantamount to a year or more of free passage around the country, whether he’s likely to ultimately win his case or not. This lures more and more migrants into the pipeline, making the backlog even worse.
The bill proposes to address this backlog in several ways. It would allot heaps of new money to broaden the pipeline, from more ICE agents to more asylum officers to more detention beds, making it easier to adjudicate asylum cases quickly and allowing the government to detain more migrants in the meantime. It would also tighten the requirements for who can apply for asylum at all, such as by barring migrants who could have resettled within their own country or who could have resettled in another country on the way to America. And it would create a new pressure valve for the whole system in the form of a near-total temporary border shutdown when crossings are happening in particularly high numbers (specifically, an average of 5,000 crossings a day).
Republican critics from Mike Johnson to Ted Cruz have seized on that pressure-valve provision as evidence of the bill’s supposed capitulation to Democrats, insisting it amounts to only beginning border enforcement once 5,000 migrants a day have already crossed. Simply put, this is untrue: While this specific new authority would only kick in after that threshold, current law—much of which this package tightens—would still be enforced.
“The Border Emergency Authority has been the most misunderstood or maybe just misrepresented parts of the bill,” Sen. James Lankford, the leading Republican negotiator on the package, tweeted on Sunday. “The emergency authority is not designed to let 5,000 people in. It is designed to close the border and turn 5,000 people around.”
Some other Republican critics zeroed in on one place where the bill could make the system more attractive to migrants: expanded work permits for those who do provisionally qualify for asylum. Still others who opposed the package’s foreign spending argued the changes simply weren’t close to strict enough for them to swallow billions in new aid to Ukraine.
And then there was the reason offered by Rep. Troy Nehls last month.
“Let me tell you, I’m not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat,” the Texas congressman told CNN. “I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man’s dismal approval ratings.”
Notable and Quotable
“I’m going all in. Unless DeSantis wins the GOP nomination, I will quit social media and politics forever. I can no longer work in a world where a narcissistic, lying criminal like Trump is my party’s nominee. DeSantis is in or I’m out.”—Podcaster Bill Mitchell, June 14, 2023
“I am NEVER voting for Trump. I’d sooner vote for the devil.”—Podcaster Bill Mitchell, January 19, 2024
“To me it’s a no-brainer. If we want to defeat Biden and Trump is our nominee we need to support Trump. This is a binary choice.”—Podcaster Bill Mitchell, February 4, 2024