WASHINGTON – Donald Trump on Wednesday privately pressured Senate Republicans to “kill” a bipartisan deal to secure the U.S. border because he doesn’t want President Joe Biden to chalk up a win ahead of the 2024 presidential election, according to a source familiar with the tenuous negotiations on the package.
Trump directly reached out to several GOP senators on Wednesday to tell them to reject any deal, said this source, who requested anonymity to speak freely. The GOP presidential frontrunner also personally reached out to some Senate Republicans over the weekend, the source told HuffPost.
“Trump wants them to kill it because he doesn’t want Biden to have a victory,” said the source. “He told them he will fix the border when he is president… He said he only wants the perfect deal.”
Trump’s meddling generated an “emotional” discussion in a closed door meeting between Senate Republicans on Wednesday, as senators vented their frustrations for hours about the largely secret negotiations over emergency aid for Ukraine, Israel and immigration. The conference is splintering into two camps: those who believe Republicans should take the deal, and those who are opposed at any cost.
“The rational Republicans want the deal because they want Ukraine and Israel and an actual border solution,” said the source. “But the others are afraid of Trump, or they’re the chaos caucus who never wants to pass anything.”
“They’re having a little crisis in their conference right now,” the source added.
A bipartisan group of senators has been working for months to craft a border deal, and Trump has made it no secret that he opposes it. Last Wednesday, he wrote on Truth Social, his conservative social media site, “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions and Millions of people.”
What’s different now, though, is that Trump, who appears to have the GOP presidential nomination locked up, is now directly telling GOP senators to oppose any deal. His meddling has left their conference in even more disarray than it was already in, and a potential border deal in limbo.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) demurred when asked if he thinks it’s constructive for Trump to tell Republicans not to make any border deals.
“I could probably go through any number of things that Biden is saying that are not constructive when he’s on the campaign trail, but that’s the nature of campaigns,” Tillis said. “So I’m not going to criticize President Trump or his positions.”
But, bucking Trump, he said he supported passing the bipartisan border deal, which Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has been working on with Democrats.
“Based on what I’ve seen and based on the work that James Lankford has put in, it goes far enough for me,” said Tillis. “If anyone’s intellectually honest with themselves, they all know these would be extraordinary tools for President Trump.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referenced comments Trump made as president in 2018 about the difficulty of getting Democrats to agree to changes to immigration laws. McConnell, who is no fan of Trump, was making the case that Republicans should agree to a border deal now, since the likelihood of Democrats potentially cutting a deal with Trump in the White House again would be highly unlikely.
At the meeting, senators also viewed footage of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) making a prophetic warning about Russia’s designs on Europe after Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Crimea in 2014 — a bid by Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to build support for Ukraine aid.
Tillis, who is an advocate of aid to Ukraine, told HuffPost there is “a general consensus in the majority of our conference that we need to support Ukraine.”
He warned what it would mean if the U.S. gives up on Ukraine: “This won’t take decades to regret. This will be in a matter of years. People who choose to ultimately exit Ukraine, if they are successful, for as long as I am breathing, I will remind them of the consequences I am convinced we will have to live through.”
Multiple senators described the meeting as a healthy airing of views, but none believed that it changed any minds.
“I don’t think Russia’s going to keep going,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), said when asked about the dangers of abandoning Ukraine.
“They have fought for two years just to try to get 50 miles in Ukraine. How in the hell are they going to go to Poland, Sweden, keep going through Europe?” he wondered. “That’s not going to happen.”
Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.