A deal that would free up $106 billion in foreign aid spending for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, while tightening rules on immigration that the White House and senators from both parties have worked on for months, is under threat to be torpedoed by former President Donald Trump.
Backed by voters who consider immigration the most important issue in the 2024 race, Trump won in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday after securing a victory in Iowa last week.
“We called it right — immigration is a big deal,” Trump said in his victory speech Tuesday. “We have millions of millions of people flowing into our country illegally. They come from prisons, and they come from mental institutions,” he added without providing details to back up his claims.
Trump has used inflammatory anti-immigration language on the campaign trail, including that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”
The victory is likely to embolden the front-runner for the Republican presidential nominee to use his popularity to influence lawmakers from his party to avoid a compromise on immigration.
“I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people, many from parts unknown, into our once great, but soon to be great again, Country!” he wrote last week on the social media platform Truth Social.
“Also, I have no doubt that our wonderful Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson will only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER.”
Republicans against ‘unrestrained aid’
Trump’s comments came hours after House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, and other congressional leaders met with White House officials to discuss the path forward on a national security funding request from the Biden administration. It includes funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia, as well as money for Israel and the Indo-Pacific that Republicans have tied to requirements on border security.
“I think the vast majority of members of Congress support aid to Ukraine,” Biden told reporters when asked about the meeting. “The question is whether or not a small minority are going to hold it up, which would be a disaster.”
Beyond their border demands, some Republicans also oppose “unrestrained U.S. aid for Ukraine,” saying in April they will “oppose all future aid packages unless they are linked to a clear diplomatic strategy designed to bring this war to a rapid conclusion.”
Americans also are getting increasingly weary of U.S. involvement abroad. With wars in Ukraine and Gaza, foreign policy has risen to prominence as a major concern compared to previous years, according to a December poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Sixty percent said foreign policy should be a top focus for the U.S. government in 2024, up from 41%. Thirty-five percent cite immigration and the border wall as a top concern, an increase from 27%.
Compromise faces some House opposition
This week, a bipartisan group of senators agreed on a compromise that could draw wider support for an immigration and foreign aid package.
But even if it clears the Senate, the deal faces steep opposition from hard-line House Republicans. Democrats have accused them of blocking the bill on “orders from” Trump.
The border is an issue that fires up the Republican base, and passing a bill that Democrats can claim as a win could hurt Republican messaging in an election year, said Norman Ornstein, senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute.
“They don’t want to do anything that might benefit Joe Biden and take this issue of the border off the table for the 2024 campaign,” he told VOA.
By tying immigration to Biden’s top foreign policy agenda, Republicans are also aiming to undercut Biden’s message that he is the president who will restore U.S. leadership on the world stage. Trump’s four years in office was marked by an “America First” isolationist doctrine that brought turbulence in Washington’s relationship with its allies and partners.
Parole a key contention
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism earlier this week that negotiators can reach a deal, even though “many on the hard right” are “taking cues from Donald Trump” to scuttle it.
Negotiations are focused on how to limit the number of people granted parole, a status that allows migrants without visas to live and work in the United States temporarily.
Republicans view parole as a dangerous loophole that fuels illegal immigration and must be eliminated. Democrats see it as a tool to allow the administration to bring vulnerable populations into the country.
At a time of congressional deadlock, “taking that tool away is essentially making what is a broken immigration system even more difficult for the executive to manage,” said Lia Parada, chief advocacy officer at the Immigration Hub, an interest group advancing “fair and just” immigration policies, according to its website.
Parada said she is pessimistic a deal could be reached soon.
VOA’s Carolyn Presutti contributed to this report from New Hampshire.