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Biden is willing to make a deal on immigration. But he’s in for a painful wait

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

President Joe Biden is making a cold calculation about his priorities, trading a pivot to the right on immigration in exchange for more money to help Ukraine repel Russia.

But the potential deal, which is already angering his progressive base, is not coming easy and will have to wait until next year.

“There’s no way,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune told CNN’s Manu Raju about the prospect of a deal before the holidays.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump is driving Republicans further to the right with increasingly harsh language demonizing migrants, perhaps complicating a search for some middle ground in the nation’s capital.

Senators struggled to finalize an elusive bipartisan deal that would see Democrats swap the billions in foreign aid money sought by Biden in exchange for a border policy that harkens back to Trump’s administration.

Republicans have been hammering Biden’s entire presidency about the need to address surges in border crossings with further restrictions on those seeking asylum.

Texas takes immigration matters into its own hands

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed a controversial law that would make entering the state illegally a state crime and give Texas law enforcement the power to arrest migrants.

The law is expected to take effect in March, so expect a court fight next year. The US Supreme Court has previously affirmed federal oversight of immigration matters.

The more immediate question of a new federal border policy agreement also seems likely to stretch into next year.

Can’t find a deal in DC

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer delayed the chamber’s holiday break for a few days into this week in order to buckle down on the immigration-changes-for-Ukraine-aid deal. Lawmakers will still manage to leave town with a massive to-do list and no clear path forward.

The House didn’t even make a show of sticking around. They packed up last week, leaving major questions about US aid for Israel, Ukraine and the border.

House Republicans, under the guidance of Speaker Mike Johnson, have insisted that the spending bill dramatically alter US immigration policy, reverting it to something more in line with Trump’s policies when he was president.

A concession on immigration

That Biden has appeared open to border policy changes is an indication both of how powerful the issue is becoming in US politics and also how far he’s willing to go to secure the aid for Ukraine.

The US has been a main foreign financial backer of Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russia’s invasion, and Biden has portrayed the stakes of supporting Ukraine as essential to defending democracies abroad and standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

White House officials warned Monday that at the end of the month, the Pentagon will exhaust the money it is authorized to spend on Ukraine.

But Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the top Republican at the negotiation table for border talks, said he thinks meeting to discuss the legislation when the House returns the week of January 8 is a “realistic timeline.”

Anger on the left

Biden will need to work on convincing his left flank that any concessions on immigration are worth it.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Camila DeChalus reported Monday on anger among Democrats who complain they will be asked to campaign for Biden next year but will not be able to defend his move on immigration.

Alvarez and DeChalus talked to Democratic Rep. Delia Ramirez, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who delivered the progressive response to Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year.

“I cannot campaign for someone in which I can’t explain tangibly that they’re looking for relief, that they are strengthening the asylum status, improving legal pathways,” Ramirez said. “My credibility is based on my ability to talk about those things and how we’re delivering,” she said.

A White House official defended the administration’s track record, according to the CNN report, saying, “The Biden Administration has led the largest expansion of lawful pathways in decades, the Trump Administration focused on banning individuals from Muslim majority countries. And while the Trump Administration separated families, the Biden Administration established a Task Force with the purpose of reunifying those families.” Read the full report.

What does an immigration pivot look like?

It’s still not publicly clear what a potential border policy deal could look like.

Pointing to a bill Republicans passed through the House back in May, House Republicans have so far left the details of policy tweaks to the senators to work out.

The House-passed immigration bill, which was a nonstarter for Senate Democrats and Biden, proposed to codify some of Trump’s signature border programs.

Writing about the passage of HR 2, CNN’s Alayna Treene described the bill as “including the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, which mandated that migrants stay in Mexico while going through the asylum process. It also would pour more resources into security at the southern border, restart border wall construction, add more border personnel and upgrade border technology, among other provisions.”

Long to-do list

The foreign aid bill will be a top priority in early January, but it’s followed by even more important items.

Short-term US government funding bills lawmakers passed in November expire on January 19 and February 2. A partial government shutdown is a real possibility since Republicans have said they will use the bills to force spending cuts on Democrats.

In addition, a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration should have been passed before the end of the year. Instead, the House left a temporary extension for the Senate. They’ll get back to the longer-term version of that next year as well.

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