Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) indicated Monday that legislative text of a border deal is unlikely to arrive this week, as negotiators work on a package that could unlock aid for Ukraine and the border emerges as a top priority for House Republicans.
Lankford, the lead Republican negotiator, told reporters that the group made substantial progress over the Christmas break, but too much work remains to expect a deal by Wednesday, when Senate Republicans are set to hold a special conference meeting dedicated to border talks.
“We have made a lot of progress. As we’re ticking through every area, going through [and] trying to write, trying to make sure everybody’s on board takes a long time … I was hoping that. That’s not going to happen,” Lankford said when asked about the possibility of text being released by the Wednesday meeting. “There’s too many unanswered issues that are still there. There are too many unresolved parts.”
“But I would tell you as recently as yesterday, I was thinking we’re close, but in all of our meetings last night and today, we’re not going to be able to get there by Wednesday,” he continued. “We just didn’t make progress as fast as I hoped we would.”
The Oklahoma Republican added that it is “doubtful” the text would be released by Friday.
“It’s more likely the next [week],” he said.
The remarks came after other Senate leaders presented a rosy outlook concerning the discussions.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor earlier in the afternoon that “it’s been a very promising few days” for negotiators and that they have “made more progress in the past couple of days on the border than we have in the past few weeks.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added that he was “encouraged” by the state of talks.
But pitfalls remain for the negotiating group, headlined by questions of how they will address parole. Multiple senators said Monday that the issue remains the biggest sticking point.
Lankford met throughout the break with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), along with top White House officials, including last week when most of the talks were held in person at the Capitol.
Murphy on Monday told reporters that the hope is to have text “as soon as possible,” but that open issues remain. He declined to discuss specific troubles in talks, but he underscored that negotiators are still navigating through treacherous waters.
“Many of us warned it’s not a good idea to condition the salvation of Ukraine and Europe on our ability to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Period,” Murphy said. “Immigration reform is really difficult. We’ve run out of time. Ukraine is at a real moment of peril.”
Senate Republicans are hopeful they will get more details out of the Wednesday meeting even though text is unlikely to arrive then. Sources have said in recent weeks that Lankford has kept his cards close to his vest during conference lunches in order to avoid leaks that could jeopardize the ongoing discussions.
“We’ll have to give more information, just so people know,” Lankford said. “I’ve tried to give people as much information as I can as I go. … This is just long and complicated, and that’s the difficulty.”
If the deal emerges and is OK’d by the Senate, hard work remains across the aisle in selling the potential package to House Republicans. Lankford will take one of his first steps in doing just that when he briefs the Republican Study Committee, the largest group of House conservatives, during their weekly lunch Wednesday.
House Republicans have been loud in their support for H.R. 2, with some members indicating that they will not support any compromise bill that emerges in order to deny President Biden a political win in an election year or because it will not include enough of what was in the original partisan package. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) likened Lankford to a “goalie on a dart team” over the job he has ahead of him in trying to win over the needed support.
“That’s probably not a bad analogy,” Lankford said laughing. “When you’re in a football game, you’ve got a lot of people cheering and yelling and booing, but the 22 people out on the field, they’re actually taking hits. It’s different. For those of us that have been engaged on the field, we’re going to take lots of hits, and lots of people are going to cheer and boo in the stands, and I understand that, but the task still has to be done.”
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