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Border talks on the rocks? Why Congress hasn’t found a fix.

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Former President Donald Trump has long fashioned himself as the ultimate dealmaker. But as his presidential campaign gains momentum, he may be the main force threatening a bipartisan Senate deal on one of his pet issues: border security.

Just two days ago, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said there was “a unique opportunity” for Republicans to win Democratic concessions on enhanced border security measures in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel. But after Mr. Trump’s 11-point win in the New Hampshire primary yesterday, Mr. McConnell changed his tune.

Why We Wrote This

While immigration compromise has long eluded lawmakers, a number of factors recently aligned to make a border security deal seem possible. But opposition from former President Donald Trump may halt the momentum.

“We’re in a quandary,” he reportedly told GOP colleagues in a closed-door meeting, explaining that Mr. Trump wants to use the issue to pummel his likely election opponent, President Joe Biden. 

Immigration has been a tough nut for Congress to crack over the years. But many saw this as the best shot in more than a decade, with record numbers of illegal crossings, and Democratic mayors from Chicago to New York pressuring the Biden administration to take action. 

There’s still a chance the Senate could broker a deal. But even then, it would then need support from the House of Representatives, where GOP Speaker Mike Johnson has also come under increasing pressure from Mr. Trump not to compromise. 

Former President Donald Trump has long fashioned himself as the ultimate deal-maker. But as his presidential campaign gains momentum, he may be the main force threatening a bipartisan Senate deal on one of his pet issues: border security.

Just two days ago, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said there was “a unique opportunity” for Republicans to win Democratic concessions on enhanced border security measures in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel. Now was the “ideal time,” he said. But yesterday, after Mr. Trump’s 11-point win in the New Hampshire GOP primary made him the overwhelming favorite to secure the 2024 GOP nomination, Mr. McConnell changed his tune.

“We’re in a quandary,” he reportedly told GOP colleagues in a closed-door meeting, explaining that Mr. Trump wants to use the issue to pummel his likely election opponent, President Joe Biden, where he’s weakest. Indeed, according to a Jan. 22 Harvard/Harris poll, voters ranked immigration as the No. 1 issue facing the nation – and Mr. Biden’s handling of it as the most disappointing aspect of his presidency.

Why We Wrote This

While immigration compromise has long eluded lawmakers, a number of factors recently aligned to make a border security deal seem possible. But opposition from former President Donald Trump may halt the momentum.

Immigration has been a tough nut for Congress to crack over the years, given the complexity of interlinked challenges to be solved and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan agreement on all of them. But this was seen by many as the best shot in more than a decade, with buy-in from Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate. A number of factors have heightened the sense of urgency of late: the record numbers of illegal crossings and growing concerns on the right about terrorists entering the country; Democratic mayors from Chicago to New York publicly pressuring the Biden administration to take action; and the border talks being linked to aid for Ukraine and Israel, key priorities for Mr. Biden, as well as some Republicans like Mr. McConnell. 

There’s still a chance the Senate could broker a deal. But even then, it would need support from the House, where GOP Speaker Mike Johnson has come under increasing pressure from Mr. Trump not to compromise. This, despite two-thirds of voters supporting stepped-up border security policies, according to the Harvard/Harris poll. 

Yahir Ceballos/Reuters

Migrants seeking to reach the U.S. border rest outside the “Decanal Guadalupano” migrant shelter before continuing their journey, in Tierra Blanca, Mexico, Jan. 24, 2024.

What’s the scope of Senate talks?

This round of talks has focused nearly exclusively on border security and enforcement mechanisms rather than the more ambitious goals of reforming the asylum system or widening channels for legal immigration. 

That’s due in part to a spike in illegal immigration. Since Mr. Biden took office in 2021, Customs and Border Protection has encountered nearly three times as many migrants trying to enter the United States illegally as during former President Trump’s tenure, with daily crossings as high as 10,000



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