Lankford defends border bill after attacks by Donald Trump and other Republicans

Lankford defends border bill after attacks by Donald Trump and other Republicans

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Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who is facing blowback from within his party for working on a bipartisan border security package, defended the bill on Sunday, saying his Republican colleagues who have criticized the measure are misunderstanding it.

Lankford has been the GOP’s lead negotiator on the bipartisan deal, which would tie funding for Ukraine to border policy changes pushed by Republicans. Though senators have not yet released the text of the bill, President Biden has praised the general framework of the deal. But former president Donald Trump has opposed the package, which has prompted several Senate Republicans to say they would not support the measure.

On Sunday, Lankford said his colleagues had not had a chance yet to read the full text of the bill and said there were “internet rumors” floating around about the measure that were false.

“This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There’s no amnesty. It increases the number of Border Patrol agents, increases asylum officers, it increases detention beds so we can quickly detain and then deport individuals,” Lankford said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“It focuses on additional deportation flights out. It changes our asylum process so that people get a fast asylum screening at a higher standard and then get returned back to their home country,” Lankford added.

Lankford called out his colleagues for bowing to political pressure, noting that four months ago Republicans refused to grant funding for Ukraine, Israel and the southern border until there were policy changes.

“So we actually locked arms together and said we’re not going to give you money for this. We want a change in law,” Lankford said. “When we’re finally going to the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. I actually don’t want a change in law because it’s a presidential election year.’ We all have an oath to the Constitution and we have a commitment to say we’re going to do whatever we can to be able to secure the border.”

Lankford, however, is facing intense criticism from within his own party over his efforts to get the bipartisan bill done. On Saturday, the Oklahoma GOP committee passed a resolution condemning Lankford for his work with Democrats on the border security bill and called on the senator “to cease and desist jeopardizing the security and liberty of the people of Oklahoma and of these United States.”

The resolution accused Lankford of “playing fast and loose with Democrats on our border policy” and of “authorizing several thousand people to invade our borders before any action can be taken.”

Trump, who is running for reelection and who decisively won the GOP’s first two nominating contests this month, blasted the would-be bipartisan deal as a potential political “gift” to Democrats during an election year. On Saturday, Trump bragged about inserting himself into the debate and stymieing efforts to get the bill passed, even though he is not in office.

Democrats, including Biden’s reelection campaign officials and top lawmakers, have accused Trump of acting against national security interests for political gain. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), another key negotiator on the border bill, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the bill could be ready to be on the Senate floor this week.

“I am hopeful that we will still have enough Republicans in the Senate who want to fix the problem at the border, rather than just do Donald Trump’s bidding, but we will see over the next 24 to 48 hours whether that’s true,” Murphy said.

Biden on Friday said that the bill would grant him new emergency authority to “shut down” the border, referring to a provision that would kick in when unauthorized crossings surpass 5,000 over a five-day average. He vowed to use that new authority on the day he signed the bill into law.

Lankford noted that, in the last four months, there have only been seven days where there were fewer than 5,000 unauthorized border crossings a day, and that the bill was intended to close down the border so that “no one gets in” if there was a rush of crossings.

“This is not about letting 5,000 people in a day. This is the most misunderstood section of this proposal,” Lankford said on Sunday on Fox. “This is not someone standing at the border with a little clicker saying, ‘I’m going to let one more in. We’re at 4,999’ and then it has to stop. It is a shutdown of the border and everyone actually gets turned around.”

The authority Biden was referencing would shut down most asylum screenings for migrants crossing illegally, according to two people familiar with the outlines of the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Migrants could still apply at ports of entry, where a set number of asylum claims would need to be granted, they said. Migrants would be expelled indefinitely until crossings dipped below 3,750 per day, which would end the expulsion authority period.

The bill being negotiated would also change the U.S. asylum process with the goal of reducing the average time for an asylum claim to be resolved from several years to 6 months, the people said. It also raises the standard for migrants to be able to make an asylum claim in the first place. Some Republicans’ goal to dramatically curtail Biden’s use of his humanitarian parole powers for certain categories of migrants is not in the final deal, they said.

On Sunday, Lankford said the measure will ensure that the only migrants who get a work permit are those who have gone through a “strenuous evaluation” and who are probably going to be able to end up with asylum and remain in the United States.

“That’s a fraction of the people that go through the process. The vast majority of people that actually go through this process will be turned around and were deported,” Lankford said.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who appeared on “Fox News Sunday” right after Lankford, defended the Oklahoma senator as smart, hard-working and knowledgeable — but also said Lankford was “on a suicide mission” regarding the border security deal and indicated he would not support the package.

“Now, James is doing the best he can to try to explain the bill that, unfortunately, I don’t know why they don’t share it with us. I mean, I’d rather be for something, but we don’t get anything,” Scott said. “Biden could [shut down the border] today. Why doesn’t he do it today? I mean, he doesn’t need any of this to secure the border.”

Toluse Olorunnipa and Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.

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