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How the Republican support for the border bill evaporated


It was a dramatic day in Congress. Republicans in the House failed to pass articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, moments before failing to pass standalone aid for Israel - all that after Senate Republicans, under pressure from GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, backed away from a border policy and foreign aid deal that was stacked with conservative policy priorities. NPR's Eric McDaniel is following all of this from the Capitol. Hi, Eric.


SHAPIRO: Let's start in the House where, late in the day here in D.C., they voted on this impeachment push, and Republicans appeared to think it would pass. But it did not. How did it fall apart?

MCDANIEL: Well, they, as you know, have a wafer-thin majority in the House. They needed 216 votes for this impeachment to go through. They appear to have already counted on two defections - there were two members of the House Republican Conference who said they'd oppose this - and one absence. But in the end, there were actually three defections and one absence. Every Democrat showed up to vote and oppose the motion, while on the Republican side, Mike Gallagher joined Tom McClintock and Ken Buck in opposing, meaning Mayorkas, who oversees the border, was not impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, which, as we now know all too well, is the standard for impeachment. Then another vote, this Israel bill you mentioned, failed to reach a two-thirds threshold it needed to pass - another big flop. I expect Republicans will try to impeach Mayorkas again soon once they're back at full attendance. Never a dull day here.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Now, there had been an effort to tie foreign aid to this border bill. So did the failure of the Israel vote have much to do with the collapse of that border package that fell apart in the Senate this afternoon?

MCDANIEL: In a way, yeah, it did. I mean, foreign military aid is obviously a complex issue. Many folks, including the Republican leader in the Senate, want to pass all this aid at once - so to Ukraine and to Taiwan and to Israel. But the border and military aid deal in the Senate, that failing had just as much to do with border and presidential politics, right? So as conservatives are quick to point out, last year there were more than 3 million migrants who arrived at the U.S. southern border, presented themselves to or encountered border protection agents. Many of these folks are fleeing poverty, but that doesn't automatically meet the threshold for asylum under U.S. law. But all their claims still have to be processed, and the system just isn't set up to handle the volume that we've got going.

And this bipartisan deal, which took months to negotiate and was supposed to address a lot of those issues - that's why the Border Patrol union supported it, the Republican-aligned Chamber of Commerce supported it, the Wall Street Journal editorial board. But things started to come apart when it became clear that GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said, well, he doesn't support it. And Senate Republicans quickly followed his lead.

SHAPIRO: I mean, it's remarkable because Republican leadership in the Senate backed this border and aid negotiation for months. And as you say, it had so much of what they wanted. The deal only came out a few days ago.

MCDANIEL: Right. Senate Republican leadership called for border policy and military aid to be linked together in the first place, when Democrats initially just wanted to pass the foreign military aid deal solo. Here's McConnell just a few weeks ago.


MITCH MCCONNELL: If we had a 100% Republican government - president, House, Senate - we probably would not be able to get a single Democratic vote to pass what Senator Lankford and the administration are trying to get together on.

MCDANIEL: So a big endorsement - but when the text came out this Sunday, basically you've got a member of his leadership, John Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate Republican, saying he opposes the deal, that Biden would never enforce the legislation anyway and that, quote, "Americans will turn to the upcoming election to end the border crisis." Here's Mitch McConnell today.


MCCONNELL: It looks to me - and to most of our members - as if we have no real chance here to make a law.

MCDANIEL: Top Democratic negotiator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said that it's a sign Senate Republicans are now in thrall to Trump, and President Biden said he'd make Republicans reversal on this a key campaign issue.

SHAPIRO: So the immigration deal is dead. Does that mean foreign military aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan is also dead?

MCDANIEL: Maybe, maybe not - it's possible it could get repackaged in this standalone bill Democrats wanted in the first place, but who knows? I could also see it come up tied to government funding in March or not at all.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Eric McDaniel. Thank you.

MCDANIEL: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLXST SONG, "PASSIONATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.