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A Senate deal on border security faces uncertainty from the House

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A small group of senators, White House officials and leadership aides are trying to craft a bipartisan bill to address the sharp increase in migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans say they cannot support aid for Ukraine and Israel unless there's a deal on the border. That deal is far from done, but the talks are already raising red flags in the House. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: House members aren't in the border talks happening in Washington. No one has seen a bill. But already, the proposals on the table are drawing ire from conservatives like South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RALPH NORMAN: Watered down nothing, watered down nothing.

WALSH: ...And progressives like Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: And they're cruel and inhumane and...

WALSH: Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says linking border changes to money for Ukraine amounts to a ransom demand. And progressive critics say some of the proposals, like further restricting entry at the border and making it harder for migrants to claim asylum, amount to reinstating Trump administration policies.

JAYAPAL: You know, I just think it's unfortunate that we constantly do this where we buy into and try to out-Republican Republicans. It's never worked. The enforcement-only strategy does not work.

WALSH: On the other side, House conservatives say they won't support anything less than the border security bill that passed earlier this year with zero Democrats voting for it. Here's Florida Republican Byron Donalds.

BYRON DONALDS: The House's position is clear. H.R.2 - we've passed it. We've had overwhelming support for it.

WALSH: That package includes provisions to build a border wall, step up enforcement to return migrants to home countries and significantly restrict who qualifies for asylum. Donalds is skeptical of any deal coming out of the upper chamber.

DONALDS: I've seen deals in this town that were negotiated amongst senators. They typically are not good deals. They are face-saving deals.

WALSH: Norman shares that sentiment.

NORMAN: We'll look at it, but the devil's in the details. But what else has the Senate done that's meaningful? Nothing.

WALSH: Jayapal says half of House progressives would oppose the framework emerging from the Senate and says with House Republicans taking a hard line, she's not sure how it could pass.

JAYAPAL: I don't know who is going to be the coalition of the willing here because Republicans want H.R.2 and nothing less.

WALSH: One Republican lawmaker who is open to compromise is John Duarte. He says one way to get a deal would be pairing the conservative House border bill with protections for undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children under the Obama-era policy known as DACA.

JOHN DUARTE: Well, we need enough Republican colleagues that want secure border and can live with the DACA fix, and we need enough Democrats that want a DACA fix and can live with a secure border.

WALSH: Scott Peters, a Democrat who represents the San Diego area, says he knows there is a sense there that immigration is out of control.

SCOTT PETERS: We can manage it better, and to the extent that that requires resources, I think Democrats can be supportive of that.

WALSH: Tennessee Republican Tim Burchett thinks more resources to process migrants won't solve the problem. He was one of the eight Republicans who ousted former speaker McCarthy. Asked if speaker Mike Johnson should bring up a compromise from the Senate for a vote in the House, he says...

TIM BURCHETT: I just think that'd be a bad decision. We need a physical barrier there. We don't need more lawyers. That's what's gotten us into trouble. Every lawyer is looking for some way to get their client in this country illegally.

WALSH: This is not the first time President Biden has angered the left with his immigration policies. Jayapal says the coalition that elected Biden in 2020 - young people, Black and brown voters and immigrants - could dissolve in 2024.

JAYAPAL: Throwing immigrants under the bus, which I've seen happen over and over again, is not a good election strategy because all you do - you don't bring Republicans over to you. You just lose your base.

WALSH: House members left Washington for the holiday break. But as senators continue to discuss some kind of middle ground, it's clear those on the left and the right in the House are in no mood to back it. Deirdre Walsh, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA SONG, "BULLS***IN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.