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Bipartisan agreement in the Senate would significantly change U.S. immigration policy


Senate negotiators accomplished an election year feat. They reached a bipartisan deal to reshape U.S. border policies while also providing aid to Ukraine and Israel. But detractors - a long list of them - are already trying to shoot down that national security legislation. Here's the Senate majority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, hoping to salvage the deal on the floor today.


CHUCK SCHUMER: This bipartisan agreement is not perfect, but given all the dangers facing America, it is the comprehensive package our country needs right now.

PFEIFFER: Still, the election year timing, along with opposition from House Republicans, has some lawmakers warning that the deal-making may be reaching an end. NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us from the Capitol. Hi, Claudia.


PFEIFFER: So this bill, $118 billion plan - give us some of the main provisions.

GRISALES: Well, it directs $20 billion of that money to the border. This is a significant amount, along with pretty significant changes to border policy. President Biden touted the plan to reporters today, and he also addressed some of the Republican detractors of the bill.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We need help. Why won't they give me the help all this time? And now they're starting to talk about the border. It's out of control. Well, guess what? Everything in that bipartisan bill gives me control. It gives us control.

GRISALES: For example, the bill would give him executive power to shut down the border if the number of migrants hits a certain threshold. It also narrows who can qualify for asylum and speeds up that process and also expands access to work authorizations for those who are waiting for that asylum decision. Then there's $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, 14 billion to Israel. And this has been the center of a monthslong debate here.

PFEIFFER: But it seems like the bill is already on life support. So what are concerns about it that Republicans are raising?

GRISALES: Well, one key critic is House speaker Mike Johnson. He says the only answer to pass a hardline bill that House Republicans passed months ago - it would purge undocumented workers and drastically cut asylum, among other things. So he called this bill dead on arrival. Even though it has some money for a border wall and a lot of other conservative policy demands, some Senate Republicans may not want to take this risky vote on a bill that they're being told will never get a vote in the House and cannot become law.

PFEIFFER: Johnson has only been speaker for a little more than three months. What kinds of pressure is he facing when it comes to this bill?

GRISALES: Well, he's navigating some spending bills through his chamber that are not popular with his hard-right wing, and this is a chance for him to play on their side. Instead, since they're so opposed to this border plan, you don't have to look far to see who is helping shape House Republicans' attitudes on it. And that's former President Trump. Trump, who's the lead contender to become the Republican nominee for president, is vehemently opposed. And he said so on The Dan Bongino Show today.


DONALD TRUMP: This bill is a disaster. This bill has 5,000 people a day potentially coming into our country. It doesn't make sense.

GRISALES: And there you hear Trump actually referring to a new limit under this proposal that would shut down the border if migrant border approaches reach 5,000. But this has become a big talking point for Johnson and other Republicans.

PFEIFFER: These are obviously some very serious policy proposals in this bill. Is all of that work going to be crowded out by election year politics?

GRISALES: We could see that happen. The crisis at the border is a big talking point for Republicans. If you were to, say, fix the border with this legislation, Republicans lose that argument on the campaign trail. So it would help perhaps address this issue, but it would hurt these Republicans who are trying to get reelection and also expand their reach here in Washington. So there's definitely a political calculation here for Republicans who want to preserve their best shot for presenting the best argument for their election to various offices. And to add to that is the chaos of a presidential election year. These are notoriously difficult years for Congress to do their job. We have divided government, a new House speaker still learning the ropes and navigating a very narrow majority and big worries of how this entire landscape will shift next year. So, yeah, people are distracted. And the time they invest is going to be the bare minimum when it comes to their political ambitions to make sure they win elections and expand their reach.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you. 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.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.