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Texas Democrats and Republicans split on border proposal — not necessarily on party lines

WASHINGTON — A sweeping bipartisan deal meant to dramatically curb an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border has become the latest flashpoint among Texans in and around Congress — and it's not on party lines.

Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Colin Allred said he is receptive to the $118 billion deal, but Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez both recoiled at the proposal.

Cruz’s criticism echoed other Republicans in the Texas delegation as they began to understand the proposals in the 370-page bill. Meanwhile, Gutierrez mirrored progressive outrage that the deal doesn't do enough to protect migrants.

The legislation was the result of months of negotiations between Democrats and Senate Republicans. The proposal was brokered in part by lawmakers who also wanted to pass aid money for U.S. allies. Republicans made that legislative priority conditional on comprehensive border reform. The White House endorsed the package, highlighting the importance of continued support for Ukraine and Israel. The National Border Patrol Council, the Border Patrol union that is often critical of Democratic border policies, also backed the package as “far better than the current status quo.”

The package would expedite asylum screening, expand detention capacity and require the administration to shut down the border if too many migrants cross illegally. It also includes sustained defense aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a bipartisan priority in the Senate.

Allred, who is the Democratic front-runner challenging Cruz in his reelection campaign, supports the bill, which was released Sunday night, but said it was a “serious opportunity to make real progress on fixing our broken immigration system and giving our border communities the resources they need.”

[Gov. Greg Abbott defends migrant tactics in Eagle Pass amid escalating legal battle with Biden administration]

He suggested Cruz was putting politics over policy.

“Ted Cruz is choosing cynical partisan politics over doing what’s best for Texas,” Allred said in a statement. “This agreement does not have everything I had hoped for, but it is an important step and I will continue working towards comprehensive reform that includes protections for our Dreamers. Our border communities cannot afford six more years of Ted Cruz.”

Cruz had blasted the deal before the text was released. Leaks and rumors surrounding the compromise pointed to greater concessions from Republicans than many hardliners were ever interested in. The bill stops short of some of the strict provisions in a House-passed border bill, the Secure the Border Act, which included provisions to build more border walls.

“It would codify Biden’s open borders into perpetuity. Terrible for Texas, but DC Dems love it,” Cruz wrote on social media of the Senate border deal.

Cruz sponsored the House GOP bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate and is close to many of its biggest and least yielding backers in the House, including Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin.

Allred is a moderate Democrat who has taken heat from the left for backing stricter border measures. He voted last month to approve a Republican-led resolution condemning President Joe Biden for his handling of the border. He defended that vote as “being about whether we stood for the status quo or not.”

Gutierrez, the other Democrat in the primary, has not held punches against Allred for his positions on the border. He cast Allred as succumbing to Republican talking points and blasted the Senate border deal for limiting access to asylum and not including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in its negotiations. The asylum provision is a major point of contention with Hispanic lawmakers, who have raised the alarm against any deal curtailing access to asylum.

“It fails to fix the fatal flaws in our broken immigration system, and was made in secret without the voices of Americans who live on the border at the table,” Gutierrez said in a statement . “This is not bipartisanship.”

A working group led by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut hammered out the deal over the course of several months. Senate Republican and Democratic leadership kept an arm’s length from the negotiations but offered some support after the bill text came out.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a border Democrat in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wasn’t directly involved in the negotiations but kept contact with Sinema throughout the process. He and Sinema have a strong relationship as centrist iconoclasts in their respective chambers. Cuellar’s office said he supported the deal.

Trump, Texas Republicans reject deal

Hardline Republicans — including those in the Texas delegation — refuse to entertain the proposal.

“Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill, which only gives Shutdown Authority after 5000 Encounters a day, when we already have the right to CLOSE THE BORDER NOW, which must be done,” former President Donald Trump wrote on social media.

Democrats accused the former president of refusing to back the deal because a broken border would make better politics for Republicans.

House Republican leadership said it would not bring the bill to the floor if it passes the Senate, essentially guaranteeing its failure. House Republicans have largely said the president should use his existing power to shut down border crossings and that the Senate deal is not necessary.

“The bill is NOT well-intended. It is also not a border security bill. It is, however, a bill designed by Democrats to boost Biden against Trump by helping Dems blame Republicans for open borders,” Roy wrote on social media. “The border “crisis” is a crisis not of resources or lack of authority, but rather the result of abuse of law by the President - the willing disregard of the text & spirit of laws.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he had “questions and serious concerns” about the bill text. Cornyn hosted a delegation including members of the bipartisan group in El Paso to tour the border last year. During that trip, he expressed optimism that the Senate group could tackle the issue after similar success on gun safety following the shooting in Uvalde.

Cornyn told reporters Monday that he hasn’t made a decision on how he would vote, but that he was concerned Biden would opt not to enforce whatever law Congress passes. He was not actively involved in the bipartisan group’s negotiations.

“My biggest apprehension is that, given the fact that President Biden has not used the current laws that are in effect, I worry what he will do this with this new set of proposals and whether it will actually make any difference in this humanitarian crisis,” Cornyn said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Humble, rejected the idea that Biden has enough power in his hands to gain control of the border now. He denounced his colleagues for rejecting the bill before being able to read it and said the border was also out of control under Trump.

“Obviously we do need new laws. That’s why Republicans passed HR2, which was mostly new immigration law. Those advocating for HR2 can’t also claim we don’t need new laws,” Crenshaw wrote on social media. HR2 is the procedural number for House Republicans’ Secure the Border Act.

House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has long been a strong advocate for sustained military aid to Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Pacific, all of which would be included in the Senate deal. Still, he said the legislation would not pass with most House Republicans who would want to go further to tamp down on asylum abuse.

McCaul said a foreign aid bill will likely have to pass separately from the border, which is what Democrats had originally wanted to do before Senate Republicans made doing so conditional on a border provision.

“I admire Lankford for trying to do something, and there are some good aspects. But the political asylum reforms are not adequate for House Republicans. Therefore I think that’s probably dead on arrival,” McCaul said in an interview with Fox Business. “However, if we abandon our NATO allies in Ukraine like Afghanistan, we only embolden our adversaries.”

— Patrick Svitek contributed.


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