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As Kyrsten Sinema negotiates on border, potential Arizona opponents have their say

Republican Kari Lake is blasting the bipartisan deal. Democrat Ruben Gallego praised it and said Republicans don’t want to fix the issue before the election.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 31.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

PHOENIX — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona hasn’t yet said whether she will run for re-election in 2024. But the Democrat-turned-independent’s potential opponents are chiming in with their views on the big border deal Sinema is trying to negotiate. 

Republican Kari Lake is staunchly against it. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said a bipartisan compromise is a good idea and used the proposal as an opportunity to hit out at former President Donald Trump, who is against the idea — and with whom Lake has closely aligned herself since she jumped into politics in recent years.

The full details of the bill to reduce migrant crossings and change the asylum system haven’t even been released yet. But the battle lines getting drawn in Arizona illustrate the dynamics of a potential three-way Senate race there in the fall.

Lake, a longtime Trump acolyte and MAGA star who lost a run for governor in 2022, didn’t mince her words in talking about the bill in Phoenix over the weekend.

“She is crafting the worst border legislation that I’ve ever heard of,” Lake said of Sinema.  

“She wants to pretty much give almost 2 million people, who have poured across illegally our border, citizenship here in Arizona,” Lake continued, though a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has been off the table in these negotiations. “There’s nothing in the legislation to stop the fentanyl from pouring across that’s killing our children.”  

Lake also called proposed plans to tie Ukraine aid to the border deal “disgusting.”

“This is a disgusting plan that includes giving more of our hard-earned tax dollars to Ukraine and nothing to stop people from going across,” Lake said.

Gallego, a five-term House Democrat also running for Sinema’s Senate seat, had a rosier outlook on the deal and urged compromise between Republicans and Democrats to achieve common goals.

“We have to have good compromises that bring border security and funding to Ukraine,” said Gallego, who made it clear he supported the deal. 

But he wasn’t convinced that the border security deal and Ukraine aid package needed to be linked. 

“Heck, I don’t think they should even be tied,” Gallego said. “We should have more border security to stem the flow of asylum-seekers at the border. And we should fund Ukraine, because it is a free democratic country that is going against one of America’s mortal, mortal enemies.”

Like others in both parties over the last week, Gallego said Trump’s opposition to the deal was purely political.

“It’s a very cynical move,” he said. “He doesn’t want to support the border reform, because obviously it takes away one of his only issues he could talk about.”

The bipartisan package, which Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and James Lankford, R-Okla., are drafting with Sinema, could flounder in the face of opposition from Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

Rallying in Las Vegas on Saturday, Trump made clear his disdain for the bill, saying, “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill.” Johnson, meanwhile, has said President Joe Biden already has other executive tools at his disposal to deal with border crossings, and he called the provisions of the Senate bill that have been reported “dead on arrival” in the House.

Lake’s and Gallego’s distinct approaches to commenting on Sinema’s deal could be emblematic of broader campaign strategies in 2024. Lake said of Sinema, “I welcome a race with her in it.”

Gallego has been a major critic of Sinema’s in the past. But at a town hall in Scottsdale on Saturday afternoon, he took a more conciliatory approach in line with his pro-compromise rhetoric about the border. 

“For Kyrsten Sinema, if she stays in, we’re not going to go out there and trash her,” Gallego told about 100 Arizonans at the town hall.

Instead, he made the argument that her supporters should back him to minimize the odds of Lake’s getting elected.

“What we will do is remind them that a vote for Kyrsten is likely a vote for Kari Lake,” Gallego said.