Top Dem optimistic on border deal: ‘No reason we can’t finish’

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The top Democratic negotiator on border security said Wednesday that discussions are closer than they’ve been all week and urged the Senate not to leave without a deal that could unlock Ukraine aid.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) met for roughly two hours with leadership aides and top Biden administration officials, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. While he was tight-lipped about the details, Murphy indicated talks are moving in a positive direction after stalling out earlier this month.

“We’re not there yet but we continue to head in the right direction. And I think it’s more reason for everybody to stay in town and get this done. We’re closer today than we were yesterday and we should finish this before we leave,” Murphy said. “There’s still no reason we can’t finish this by the time we wrap up for the year. And we should.”

Negotiators are discussing changes to asylum laws, expulsion authority, nationwide expedited removal and mandatory detention. Earlier Wednesday, Lankford said, “There has been movement on both sides.”

Republicans are still pressing for changes to parole laws, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is a party to negotiations but not in the room. Republicans are insisting on new border restrictions as the price for fulfilling President Joe Biden’s foreign aid request.

Murphy declined to discuss details about whether lawmakers are even writing legislation at this point. Murphy and Sinema helped write a bipartisan gun safety law and also negotiated prescription drug reforms together; he said, “What I have learned in landing big complicated deals is at this point in the process, share the least amount of information possible.”

The biggest hurdle at the moment is time. The House is slated to leave tomorrow for holiday recess, and the senators are clashing over whether to try and finalize their own deal before leaving themselves and putting the onus on the House to take it up in January.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) set up votes that could take place Friday on presidential nominees, a sign that the Senate may not take off on Thursday as it does normally. And Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said even an agreement that members could review over the holidays would be a positive direction.

“The House won’t go first. So the Senate has to go first. I think the Senate is in sight of being able to do that. And I hope we do our work,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). “Since we’re here, we ought to finish it. Because who knows what’s going to happen if we leave.”

Bennet met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell along with Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire on Wednesday afternoon. It was another sign of the wild rush of activity before a potential recess — or perhaps, a deal.

Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.

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