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The Speaker of the House is pushing for the United States to close its border before providing aid to Ukraine and Israel.
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The Speaker of the House is pushing for the United States to close its border before providing aid to Ukraine and Israel.

On Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson and approximately 60 other Republican members of Congress visited the Mexican border to advocate for strict immigration policies as a condition for supporting President Joe Biden’s request for emergency funding for Ukraine.

He voiced significant uncertainties regarding his potential endorsement of a bipartisan agreement.

The visit to Eagle Pass, Texas, coincided with the Senate’s delicate negotiations in pursuit of reaching an agreement.

With the number of illegal crossings into the United States topping 10,000 on several days last month, the border city has been at the center of Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, his nearly $10 billion initiative that has tested the federal government’s authority over immigration and elevated the political fight over the issue.

During negotiations in Washington, a potential deal has emerged that could garner the support of Senate Republicans for President Biden’s proposed $110 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and other American security initiatives. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (an Independent from Arizona), James Lankford (a Republican from Oklahoma), and Chris Murphy (a Democrat from Connecticut) are actively working towards reaching a resolution before Congress reconvenes next week.

During the border tour, Johnson, a member of the Republican party from Louisiana, informed The Associated Press that he was steadfast in supporting the measures outlined in a bill passed by House Republicans in May, which did not receive any support from Democrats. The bill proposes the construction of additional sections of the border wall and the implementation of stricter rules for those seeking asylum. Democrats have criticized the legislation as “inhumane” and “anti-immigrant,” and President Biden has vowed to veto it.

Johnson stated that any border legislation that comes out of the Senate will be discussed if it resembles H.R. 2.

During a press conference, Johnson also mentioned the possibility of using the approaching government funding deadline as additional bargaining power.

“The focus of a supplementary spending bill on national security, as desired by President Biden, should prioritize the protection of America’s national security,” he stated. “Our top priority is closing and securing the border.”

Biden has shown a readiness to negotiate on policies as the growing number of migrants crossing the border poses a significant challenge for his potential reelection in 2024. The Senate discussions have involved Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House personnel.

On Tuesday evening, Biden informed reporters that action needed to be taken. He stated that his national security plan, which includes funds for handling the increase of migrants, should be approved by Congress. “They should provide me with the necessary funds to secure the border,” he urged.

Members of Congress, bottom, look around as migrants walk near a rail car covered in concertina wire at the Texas-Mexico border, in Eagle Pass, Texas, Jan. 3, 2024.

On January 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas, Members of Congress observed as migrants passed by a rail car wrapped in concertina wire near the Texas-Mexico border.

Government officials have denounced Johnson’s journey as a strategic move that will not effectively address the issue. White House representative Andrew Bates stated that Republicans were jeopardizing national safety by using the potential shutdown of the government and postponing the authorization of funds for increased border security.

During an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Mayorkas stated that when individuals reach the border, they will witness the extent of the issue and understand why we have been emphasizing for approximately thirty years that our flawed immigration system requires significant legislative reform. He further expressed that our attention is on finding solutions and he hopes that those in Washington will also prioritize finding solutions.

House Republicans claim that Mayorkas’ handling of the border situation has been a neglect of his responsibilities. They are taking steps to impeach a Cabinet member, which is uncommon, and have scheduled a committee hearing for next week to address the issue. Mayorkas stated on MSNBC that he will cooperate with the investigation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, stated at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday that the border must be addressed. He mentioned that both Democrats and Republicans are in agreement on this matter and that a compromise will need to be reached for progress to be made.

The Republican party is urging President Biden and Democrats to implement stringent border policies, citing the large influx of migrants as a potential weakness for the administration.

In December, there was a high volume of border crossings in Eagle Pass and other areas, which overwhelmed the resources of Customs and Border Protection officials. As a result, cargo rail crossings in Eagle Pass and El Paso were closed for five days and border crossings in the Arizona city of Lukeville were also shut down by authorities.

According to officials, there has been a decrease in the number of migrants over the December holidays, which follows a seasonal trend. The border crossings have resumed and the number of arrests for illegal crossings from Mexico decreased to approximately 2,500 on Monday, compared to the over 10,000 arrests on multiple days in December.

Within sight of flags flying in Mexico, a guardsman keeps watch along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, Jan. 3, 2024.

On January 3, 2024, a guardsman stands guard along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, with the Mexican flags in view.

During a discussion with 81-year-old Biden, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell stated in Kentucky on Tuesday that “age and inflation are beyond your control, but this is a tangible accomplishment that you can take credit for.”

McConnell expressed his optimistic approach towards the talks, stating that he believes they will be able to come to a resolution and are putting in their best effort.

Senate representatives have prioritized implementing stricter procedures for granting asylum to individuals who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. They also aim to increase border security with additional personnel and advanced technology, as well as implementing measures to address any significant increase in daily border crossings.

FILE - Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

On October 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas, a group of migrants crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico and were awaiting processing by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

On Tuesday, Murphy, the main negotiator for the Democratic party, expressed his desire for Republicans to eventually accept the proposal that has been collaboratively crafted by all of us in the room over a significant period of time.

He expressed worry that the longer the negotiations continue, the longer Ukraine’s defenses will be left vulnerable without guaranteed assistance from the U.S. in their conflict with Russia.

In December, the Pentagon revealed a potential last round of military assistance for Ukraine in the event that Congress does not authorize Biden’s funding proposal. The aid package, valued at $250 million, comprises of air weapons, missiles, artillery, anti-armor systems, ammunition, demolition equipment, medical supplies, and spare parts.

In the beginning of the new year, Russia has launched numerous attacks on Ukraine using missiles and drones.

According to Murphy, the Republicans’ choice to link funding for Ukraine to border issues has resulted in the Ukrainians facing a critical crisis.