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Senate negotiators are growing increasingly frustrated by what they say is widespread misinformation surrounding the emerging border package and are forcefully pushing back.
Lawmakers involved in talks have been crafting the bill for months, but the chorus of opposition has grown louder in recent weeks. This has left proponents of the border package, who have been hesitant to get into the nitty-gritty of a bill that has yet to be released, behind the eight ball.
Now they have started to issue more strenuous rebukes as they move closer to releasing the final bill text in the coming days.
That comes amid a torrent of attacks from former President Trump and indications from Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) that the bill could be dead on arrival in the House.
“The messaging war is real,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters. “The reality is we’re in the middle of primaries where everyone’s up in the House, even those who are sympathetic to the bill I could see would have challenges if they’re a month or two away from filing and a potential challenger, so the timing is very, very difficult.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), one of the lead negotiators, panned the continued attacks against the bill, especially given that the details are largely unknown outside of broad strokes.
“The stories that are swirling about what this does and doesn’t do are wrong,” Sinema told reporters in a lengthy back-and-forth. “It is misinformation, and whether it is willful or not is someone else’s question to answer, but the rumors that are swirling about what this legislation does are wrong.”
Specifically, Sinema and others are bothered with one rumored detail that has become a key talking point for conservative opponents: that the Department of Homeland Security would be required to nearly shut down the border if migrant crossings reach a daily average of 5,000 encounters per day, or if that total hits 4,000 per day over a weeklong stretch.
Conservatives have relayed this detail to allege that the U.S. would allow 5,000 migrants into the country every day in some way, shape or form. Johnson has said the package “would expressly allow as many as 150,000 illegal crossings each month.”
Sinema called the claim “the biggest piece of misinformation out there,” adding repeatedly that the bill ends “catch and release,” the practice of releasing a migrant for a time before they must appear for an immigration hearing.
“The idea that people, ‘illegals are coming into the country, 5,000 a day’ — factually false,” the Arizona Independent said.
“They do not get to stay or [get] into the country. They are not being [noticed to appear] into the country. They are not wandering around the country as current folks are doing when they come to the border,” Sinema said. “Every single one of those individuals goes into detention or into this alternative to detention program. Cases are adjudicated quickly. Those who do not qualify are removed quickly. Those who do qualify get a work authorization and when once their final claim is adjudicated, a path to citizenship as asylees deserve under our law.”
When asked about Johnson’s remarks, she labeled them “factually inaccurate.” Sinema added that his team is familiar with details of the bill.
Johnson’s office fired back Wednesday.
“As the Speaker has stated, based on published news reports, the new authority would only become operable after encounters on average exceed either 4,000 or 5,000 per day. If that is not accurate, the Senate is more than free to post legislative text and clarify any issues,” a spokesperson for the Speaker told The Hill.
Sinema’s extended remarks came days after Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, tried to parry attacks on the pending bill by Trump during a Sunday show appearance.
“They’re all functioning off of internet rumors of what’s in the bill, and many of them are false,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Multiple Senate Republicans indicated that the main issue facing those who want a border deal is still the lack of available legislative text. The group has worked for weeks in order to nail down that text, but Sinema said they are still putting the final touches on it before it hopefully is released this week. But in its absence, opponents are filling the vacuum.
“They’ve been misconstrued,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said. “When you don’t have text in front of you, I think some of the details get misconstrued.”
The border deal is expected to be part of President Biden’s emergency supplemental that would tie border reforms with aid for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and for humanitarian purposes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that working through weekends and into the looming two-week recess is not off the table in order to get the supplemental over the finish line. The recess is expected to start on Feb. 9.