Defying Trump’s opposition, Murkowski votes yes on foreign aid-border bill; Sullivan says it falls short

a photo of a man and a woman speaking into microphones
U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. (Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Senate has rejected a national security bill with money for Ukraine, Israel and border security — a package of priorities that both Alaska senators have been championing for months but only one voted to support.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was among four Republicans to vote to advance the bill, which did not come close to the 60 needed.

Murkowski said early this week she was inclined to support the bill because it was the result of bipartisan negotiations and it would improve border security and help American allies.

“Is this something that is going to be perfect by anybody’s definition of perfect? No,” she said. “Is it a negotiated product? Yes. Has it been negotiated, I think, in good faith by both sides, with a little bit of give and take? Yes.”

She and Sen. Dan Sullivan strongly favor military assistance for Ukraine and Israel. They started talking last fall about linking that to border security to overcome reluctance from some of their more conservative colleagues, particularly to the Ukraine part.

The border portion of the bill that was finalized this week would have hired more border agents, increased detentions and streamlined the process for expelling some asylum seekers, among other provisions. It won the endorsement of a border agents union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But Trump railed against it on social media, saying it would allow Democrats to shake off political blame for the flow of migrants. 

“This Bill is a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party,” he wrote, adding that border security shouldn’t be linked to foreign aid.

Republican support for the package quickly crumbled. 

By Tuesday, Murkowski was exasperated. She said it felt like the Senate was stuck in a loop, back to where they were four months ago.

“Before we had this bright idea that we were going to solve all the problems on the border. Yes,” she told reporters as she left the Capitol for the day. “You know what? Around here, I’m at the point where it’s like, can we just do one damn thing? Like, figure something out here!”

Democrats blame Trump for the erosion of Republican support. 

“President Trump holds deep sway over their party,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, told reporters. “There are certainly some typically Republican-aligned groups that are supportive of this bill, but you know, Trump seems to be a bit of a puppeteer these days.”

Sullivan cited policy particulars in the bill, not politics, for his opposition to the border section.

He said he didn’t know what role Trump’s opposition played in sinking the package.

“I think the role he played over in the House was bigger than here,” Sullivan said, meaning the Senate.

(House Speaker Mike Johnson flatly rejected the idea of even bringing the security measure up for a vote.)

Sullivan had nothing but praise for Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who spent months negotiating the bill. But, Sullivan said, legislation just didn’t go far enough. 

It left the Biden administration with too many powers that they “may” deploy, Sullivan said, and not enough insistence they “shall” use them.

“Because with this administration, even ‘shall,’ — they’re not going to help solve the border crisis,” Sullivan said. “That’s my conclusion.”

Sullivan said he’ll read the new stripped-down bill and consider how it can be improved.

“I think the ability to have border security amendments would be helpful,” he said.

Senators would have to work quickly to pass anything soon. They are scheduled to leave Friday for a two-week break.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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