Lawmakers often disparage reporters when they ask about hypotheticals. But Senate conservatives scorched the hypothetical bipartisan border security package. Even before they saw it.
"This could cause as many problems as it solves," predicted Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
But some on the right were out to kill the bill long before they even knew much about the bill. Frustrated, they complained about a lack of information dribbling out from the tightly held negotiations.
"We’re asking the questions. We’re not getting the answers," lamented Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Sen. John. Kennedy, R-La., said he wasn’t much of a soothsayer. But Kennedy seemed to know who might be clued in.
"One of the gentlemen under the interstate living on a refrigerator box knows more about it than I do," said Kennedy.
Conservatives opposed the border bill – long before there was much to know about it. But they had particular enmity for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. They railed at McConnell for even fostering the talks and assigned motive to McConnell’s machinations.
"Sadly, Mitch McConnell's enemies are conservatives in the Senate and House Republican leadership," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., didn’t channel his inner, legislative shaman to divine what might be in the Senate bill. But Johnson warned last week that the border package was "dead on arrival." During his maiden floor speech as Speaker, Johnson practically performed karaoke of Adele’s "Rumour Has it" as he blasted what he’s heard about the bill via the Congressional grapevine.
Senate conservatives are trying to protect Johnson. They accused McConnell and other members of the GOP Senate brass of "waging war" on the Speaker and aligning instead with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
"The Republican leadership is like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football," charged Cruz. "Over and over again, they run for the football. And over and over again. ‘Lucy Schumer’ pulls it away and Republican leadership lands on their ass."
That’s one way of saying the GOP’s problems with the bill are behind them.
Democrats abhorred pre-emptive maneuvers to kill the bill – before there is a bill.
"Attempts to sabotage negotiations before they even finish must be shunned by the membership of this body," warned Schumer.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., drew most of the ire since he’s the lead GOP negotiator in the talks.
"I think James is smart. He’s hardworking. He knows the issue," said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on FOX. "He’s on a suicide mission."
Nothing like a backhanded compliment instantaneously morphing into a left cross.
That’s why Lankford needed backup.
"For anybody to think that James Lankford from a ruby red state with the subject matter expertise that he has on the border is going to do something soft, it is beyond my comprehension," said a bewildered Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Lankford found himself explaining gossip that the bill might allow as many as 5,000 people to migrate illegally to the U.S. each day.
"This is not about letting 5,000 people in a day. This is the most misunderstood section of this proposal," said Lankford on FOX. "This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There's no amnesty. It increases the number of border patrol agents. It increases asylum officers."
McConnell has been the most ardent backer in Congress of sending money to Ukraine. But after seeing pushback from Republicans about assisting Ukraine last fall, McConnell decided to condition money destined for Kyiv to an effort to secure the border. That launched the bipartisan talks which ran through the holidays. However, McConnell told GOP senators last week that the party was "in a quandary" over money for Ukraine and fixing the border. McConnell declared that the "politics on this have changed." That briefly cast doubt as to whether the border bill – or for that matter, Ukraine funding – was on ice. But McConnell continued to back the border negotiations – even though many conservatives castigated the discussions.
Yours truly asked McConnell if it was a mistake to marry Ukraine aid to the border negotiations.
"I always thought it would be a challenge and it has been," replied McConnell. "But it's time for us to move something, hopefully, including the border agreement."
However, McConnell seemed to crack the door open to possibly breaking off international aid from the border plan.
"I don’t know how it’s going to end up being presented," said McConnell.
Former President Trump condemned the border security effort, characterizing the measure as "horrific." Some Trump loyalists expressed concern that passing a border bill might boost President Biden. So they protested against the legislation.
That upset another group of Republicans.
"The idea that, that someone running for president would say, ‘Please hurt the country, so I can blame my opponent and help my politics’ is a shocking development," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
When asked if he was doing Mr. Trump’s bidding and trying to kill the bill, Johnson called that "absurd."
Lankford lamented the topsy-turvy changes in the political landscape.
"It’s interesting. Republicans, four months ago, would not give funding for Ukraine and Israel," said the Oklahoma Republican on FOX. "So we locked arms together and said ‘We’re not going to give you money for this. We want to change the law.’ And now it’s interesting a few months later when we’re finally going to the end, they’re like ‘Oh, just kidding. I don’t want to change the law because it’s a presidential election year.’"
There is still – still – no legislative text.
One source close to the talks told FOX indicated the bill might grow more complicated as lawmakers need to add provisions to potentially respond to the attacks which killed U.S. troops in northeastern Jordan over the weekend.
Some GOPers believe Democrats are desperate for a border pact ahead of the election.
"I think President Biden has every reason in the world to want to deal here," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "It's a nightmare for him."
But other conservatives argued the border bill was simply a façade to score money for Ukraine. That falls on the shoulders of McConnell. And McConnell is facing an internal, conservative revolt. Some conservatives accused McConnell of trying to scapegoat former President Trump if the border talks falter.
"I think it's blaming somebody else for his poor negotiating tactics and trying to actually get a secure border," said Ron Johnson.
Johnson added on FOX Business that "the priorities of Mitch McConnell are wrong," saying "they are more concerned about Ukraine and protecting its border than our own."
Democrats lament efforts to use the border, and, for that matter, Ukraine, as a wedge.
"There are a group of Republicans that don't want to fix this problem," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Yet the border bill sits on ice.
"We have the outlines of a deal. We've had it for several days. It's 90 plus percent written," said Murphy.
And consider that the above quote from Murphy came last week.
But Sen. John Kennedy opined that maybe the border bill was dead. Not on arrival. But because it never arrived.
"It may be that our time has passed," said Kennedy. "I think a month ago the votes were there. When you have your votes, you take them. You don't keep negotiating and dithering."