Senator Lankford's Border Bill Dies In Senate Procedural Vote

A complex and controversial border reform measure, negotiated largely by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford to address Republican concerns with unprecedented levels of illegal border crossings, failed a critical procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday, more than likely ending whatever narrow shot it had of becoming law.

Wednesday, February 7th 2024, 7:39 pm



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A complex and controversial border reform measure, negotiated largely by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford to address Republican concerns with unprecedented levels of illegal border crossings, failed a critical procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday, more than likely ending whatever narrow shot it had of becoming law.

After insisting for two and a half years that Democrats acknowledge the 'crisis' at the southern border and, more recently, demanding that any new aid to Ukraine be paired with meaningful changes in border policy, Republicans in the Senate abruptly reversed course and killed the bipartisan bill that, most agree, gave them what they wanted.

A procedural vote to allow for further consideration of the bill, which also included billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine and Israel, fell well short of the 60 ayes needed for passage -- 49-50. And with most of the no votes coming from the party that had been loudly calling for something to be done at the border, Republicans left themselves open to criticism.

"It turns out," Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), one of the negotiators of the bill, said on the floor, "border security is not actually a risk to our national security; it's just a talking point for the election."

Both Sinema and Senator Lankford delivered impassioned speeches, urging and, to some extent, shaming their colleagues into supporting the legislation.

"I've had a few folks who have said, 'If I can't get everything, I want nothing'," Lankford said. "I don't find most Americans are that way just in their day-to-day life."

But, as had become fairly clear on Tuesday, Republicans who had at one time shown support for the bill had changed their minds, and no amount of cajoling or guilting changed the outcome.

In a one-on-one interview minutes after walking off the floor, Lankford opened up about his disappointment: "In many ways, I’m numb because we’ve worked on this for four months."

Lankford says there was so much misinformation about what's in the bill, even after the text came out, that it became very difficult to penetrate and get skeptics to even consider that the truth might make the bill look very different. And Lankford says the truth is that it contains major wins, not just for Republicans, but for all Americans.

"[It] dramatically changes the asylum process, dramatically increases detention, dramatically increases the number of deportation flights, makes sure that we are actually building more wall," Lankford (R-OK) said in the interview, "all of those are key elements of this bill."

The State Chamber of Commerce came out in support of the bill this week, primarily because it would increase legal immigration, specifically, the number of H-1B1 visas.

"Those are the highly skilled engineers, doctors, the tradespeople," said Chamber CEO Chad Warmington in an interview Tuesday, "that we need in our workforce in Oklahoma and in the United States."

Lankford says as much time as he and his staff put into negotiating the border measures, he doesn't take the defeat personally -- "It’s painful to walk through it, but to me, it’s not a personal defeat for me," said Lankford, "it’s a national defeat, that’s the hard part."

On the Senate floor and again in the post-vote interview, Lankford pushed back on the excuse that he says many of his colleagues gave for deciding not to support the bill -- the thinking that, if it isn't the perfect bill, then it shouldn't be made law. He says tackling difficult issues like immigration takes compromise and isn't achieved easily, so it's important to make progress when the opportunity is there.

He says that's what Oklahomans and constituents everywhere expect, and that should be each member's overriding responsibility.

"Our first responsibility is not doing press conferences," said a slightly perturbed Lankford, "it’s to actually sit down with people that disagree with you, figure out a solution, solve it, and move to the next problem."

Lankford's Oklahoma colleague in the Senate, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), had promised to keep an open mind on the bill, waiting for the text to come out. He ultimately joined all but four Republicans in voting no Wednesday, telling his constituents in a telephone town hall that it wasn't tough enough and needed to be amended.

Senator Lankford says the bill certainly would have had to be amended, in order to gain passage in the House. It's not clear, he says, what, if anything, will happen next with it. Quite possibly, he says, nothing.

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