The genesis of the story lies in President Joe Biden’s urgent pursuit of additional funds from Congress to support Ukraine and Israel. He opted to navigate a risky path by embracing GOP demands, specifically addressing illegal migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, a significant political vulnerability for him.
The denouement was dramatic, as Biden’s near-success crumbled into chaos. The collapse ensued after Republican figurehead Donald Trump intervened, scuttling a major congressional deal. Undeterred, Biden is determined to capitalize on the situation, aiming to showcase that Trump and his “Make America Great Again” Republican allies are not genuinely interested in finding solutions.
The narrative unfolds with a president willing to antagonize his own party’s activists during an election year, a glimmer of hope for bipartisan progress on a contentious issue in American politics, and an abrupt, stunning breakdown orchestrated by Trump, now viewed as a political windfall by Biden’s team.
This account is based on insights from interviews with over a dozen White House aides, lawmakers, Biden administration officials, and congressional aides. Some spoke anonymously to The Associated Press, shedding light on the back-and-forth surrounding the collapsed deal and its aftermath.
The bipartisan legislative deal, announced on a Sunday evening, marked the culmination of over four months of negotiations involving Senate Democrats, Republicans, and later, top Biden aides and Cabinet officials. The genesis of this process was Republicans, led by then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, supporting a temporary spending deal that maintained government operations but offered no new funding for Ukraine.
McCarthy insisted that any U.S. funding for Ukraine must be tied to substantial measures securing the U.S.-Mexico border, a longstanding GOP priority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Biden’s key Republican ally for Ukraine aid, also advocated for border provisions in the spending measure.
Despite internal discontent in the White House over Republicans linking unrelated policy changes to crucial funding for the Ukrainian armed forces, Biden and his advisers recognized a potential upside. This was an opportunity to address Biden’s vulnerability on immigration, particularly amid chaotic scenes at the U.S.-Mexico border and Democratic-run cities grappling with migrant challenges.
As events unfolded, McCarthy was ousted, and the House Speaker position remained vacant for weeks. The newly elected House Speaker, Mike Johnson, expressed a desire to link border security with new Ukraine funding.
Amid House disarray, a group of bipartisan senators quietly worked on the deal. The White House initially kept a distance but later joined the talks, under pressure from Republicans to expend political capital on a border compromise potentially unpopular within the Democratic Party.
On Dec. 12, senior White House officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, joined the negotiations, emphasizing Biden’s commitment to striking a deal with Republicans.
Despite challenging negotiations extending into 2024, signs of progress emerged, fueling Biden’s optimism. On Jan. 18, he expressed confidence that there were no remaining sticking points. In a surprising move to push the bill forward, Biden adopted Trump’s language, stating he would “shut down the border” if given the power—an admission that drew condemnation from his own party’s activists.
The deal aimed to overhaul the asylum system, enhance immigration enforcement, and grant new powers to expel migrants if authorities faced overwhelming asylum applications. It also included a substantial $20 billion funding boost.
The White House’s strategy for advancing the border compromise in the House, if it passed the Senate, remained unclear. House Speaker Mike Johnson resisted the agreement’s shaping, and the White House press secretary pointed out that House Republicans had left for the holidays while negotiations were ongoing.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers deemed it a mistake not to negotiate directly with House Republicans. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that if the deal effectively sealed the border, it could have garnered support.
Enter Donald Trump, occupied with a defamation trial and fending off challenges from within the GOP. On Jan. 27, he unequivocally opposed the deal at a Nevada rally, solidifying his stance as the GOP front-runner. Trump’s statement, disapproving of the “open borders betrayal,” delighted Biden aides, who saw it as an opportunity to shift blame.
By the time the bill’s text was released, the opposition from Republicans seemed insurmountable. Some argued Biden already had the authority to address border issues, while others hesitated to grant him a political win on a crucial 2024 issue.
In a stern address, Biden vowed to convey the reasons for the deal’s failure to voters, emphasizing that “MAGA Republicans” refused due to fear of Donald Trump. The sudden collapse surprised even those closely involved, with GOP senators who had previously seemed supportive now opposing the deal.
To Biden’s aides, the public breakdown validated the president’s argument about Trump and his allies prioritizing personal interests over the country’s. Despite the failure, the bipartisan agreement was the closest Washington had come to significant border policy revisions in two decades. Biden’s allies are determined to hold Republicans accountable for any future border chaos.
However, it remains uncertain whether Biden’s efforts to blame Trump will resonate. GOP critics may persist in attributing immigration challenges to the current administration. Furthermore, progressive Democrats harbor resentment over Biden’s pivot to tougher measures. Undeterred, Biden plans to assert daily that the border remains unsecured due to Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican associates until November.