WASHINGTON — Leading Senate Republicans are warning their House colleagues not to play political games with the current immigration negotiations because they won’t get a better deal down the road under a potential second Donald Trump presidency.
“To those who think that if President Trump wins, which I hope he does, that we can get a better deal — you won’t,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Wednesday. “You got to get 60 votes in the United States Senate.”
“To my Republican friends: To get this kind of border security without granting a pathway to citizenship is really unheard of. So if you think you’re going to get a better deal next time, in ’25, if President Trump’s president, Democrats will be expecting a pathway to citizenship for that,” he said. “So to my Republican colleagues, this is a historic moment to reform the border.”
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., echoed Graham's view.
“The Democrats will not give us anything close to this if we have to get 60 votes in the United States Senate in a Republican majority,” Thune said. “We have a unique opportunity here. And the timing is right to do this.”
The pleas from the Republicans come as senators are expressing growing optimism that they’re on the brink of securing a bipartisan deal on tougher asylum and border laws that they have been negotiating for months, with uncertainty looming as to whether the GOP-controlled House would accept it.
The emerging Senate package is expected to raise the bar for asylum-seekers to come to the U.S., grant additional powers to remove migrants to control the border and restrict the use of parole to admit certain migrants as they await processing for their cases.
While it has not been finalized, the latter is the main sticking point that remains, Graham indicated Wednesday.
“If we don’t fix parole, there’ll be no deal,” he said.
Even as a potential Senate compromise has yet to be inked, hard-right House Republicans have threatened to kill the deal that's designed to unlock support for new U.S. aid to Ukraine.
“There’s no compromising our border security,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., told NBC News in response to GOP senators. “There’s going to be a much better situation under Trump’s administration. We’ll bring back ‘Remain in Mexico.’ And we’re going to deport illegal aliens.”
Greene said she would personally file a “motion to vacate” and force a vote to overthrow House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., if he cuts a deal to fund Ukraine, no matter what immigration provisions it contains. “We can’t fund Ukraine,” she said, calling it “an absolute no-go — that would be a reason to vacate.”
Some House conservatives don’t want to give President Joe Biden a victory on an issue like immigration, where he’s politically vulnerable heading into a likely rematch with Trump this fall.
“The worst thing we could do is pass something that’s border security in name only, similar to what’s been reported that the Mayorkas-Lankford deal is,” said House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good, R-Va., referring to the ongoing Senate negotiations with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is deeply unpopular on the right, and the GOP's lead negotiator, Sen. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma. “That would be terrible because it wouldn’t win for the American people, it wouldn’t secure the border, and it would give the Democrats political cover for the border crisis that they have intentionally created.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said it would be “immoral” to reject a deal for partisan reasons. “You don’t knowingly make this country less safe for political points.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., echoed the warnings that even if Republicans win full control of government, they wouldn't get a single Democratic vote for such a deal.
“One of the things that I keep reminding my members is 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 Sen. Lankford and the administration are trying to get together,” he told reporters. “So this is a unique opportunity to accomplish something in divided government.”
Johnson — who has previously said the House would accept nothing short of its own Republican-passed H.R. immigration package — said Wednesday that all of that bill's “elements are important” and didn’t close the door on a Senate package before he can review it.
“We don’t know exactly what the Senate has come up with because we’ve not seen the text,” Johnson said at a news conference. “We’re anxious to see the text of what they’ve done.”