(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Mike Johnson vehemently denied that former President Donald Trump is setting the Republican congressional agenda on immigration and US border security.
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Johnson was asked on NBC’s Meet the Press whether Trump — who has said Republicans would be making a mistake if they support an emerging bipartisan Senate deal that includes immigration and border security reform — is calling the shots.
“Of course not,” Johnson shot back. “He is not calling the shots. I am calling the shots for the House. That’s our responsibility.”
Trump’s role came up as the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-controlled House pursue separate tracks in a presidential election year.
A bipartisan group of negotiators are expected to present a Senate proposal combining asylum reform and other border measures with aid to US allies including Ukraine as early as Sunday. Johnson on Saturday unveiled a $17.6 billion standalone bill to aid Israel in its war with Hamas, saying that’s the most urgent priority. The White House criticized Johnson’s move as a political ploy.
The speaker again claimed that the lengthy Senate negotiations forced the House into action and said he hasn’t been briefed on the more comprehensive Senate package.
“We’ve been awaiting their action,” Johnson said Sunday. “We cannot wait any longer.”
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries echoed the White House in criticizing the Israel-only bill, while saying House Democrats would evaluate it even though it falls short by failing to support Ukraine and doesn’t address the US’s “broken immigration system.”
“The responsible approach is a comprehensive one to address America’s national security priorities,” he said on ABC’s This Week.
Jeffries blamed Johnson and other House Republicans for doing Trump’s bidding in calling the Senate’s bill “dead on arrival” without seeing it.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Sunday that Johnson “is flailing to come up with any excuse he can to prevent bipartisan action to secure the border, all while he admits to staying in close touch with the former president about the issue.”
Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona who’s one of the border bill’s negotiators, laid out key details of proposed measures that she said would restrict so-called economic migrants from entering the US by seeking asylum.
Those who don’t meet asylum standards in a new, streamlined process would be “swiftly returned to their home country,” she said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Meanwhile, Johnson predicted the Israel aid bill he intends to have the House vote on this week will pass by a “wide margin.”
“The time is urgent and we have to take care of that responsibility,” he said on NBC.
Johnson reiterated the House passed its own GOP-backed border security bill months ago, which he said Democrats in the Senate have ignored. He said it’s not a matter of embracing the Senate’s package on immigration or nothing.
Read more: House to Vote on Israel Aid Without Ukraine Funds Next Week
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated that the administration sees Johnson’s Israel-only bill as “a ploy” and not a serious effort to deal with US national security challenges.
“That means supporting Israel. It means the war in Ukraine. It means the Indo-Pacific. And it means the border,” Sullivan said on This Week.
The House bill includes funds for Israel’s Iron Dome and Iron Beam missile defense systems, funds for US military operations in the Middle East and enhanced protection for US personnel at embassies. It wouldn’t lead to offsetting spending cuts, unlike a $14 billion Israel aid bill that passed the House over Democratic objections.
Johnson said Saturday that the goal is to get aid to Israel urgently to help its battle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.
--With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer.
(Updates with White House reaction in 11th paragraph.)
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