Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 7 December 2023


Joe Biden’s Ukraine Emergency


“Has border been nothing more than an excuse for the hard right to kill funding for Ukraine, and too many other Republican Senators who are not part of the hard right are going along?” Mr. Schumer said on the floor.

He knows better. A large majority of Senate Republicans support aid for Ukraine, notably minority leader Mitch McConnell. But their voters also want something done about the surge of migrants that has even big-city Democratic mayors pleading for help. Republicans rightly see the military aid request as a chance to give Mr. Biden something he wants in return for something they want. This is how legislating gets done, or at least it used to be.

All the more so with Republicans holding a narrow majority in the House. Mike Johnson, the new Speaker, supports weapons for Ukraine. But he can’t get an aid bill passed without some concessions on immigration. He doesn’t need every plank in H.R.2, the restrictionist bill that some conservatives are demanding. But he does need something substantive that would make a difference at the border.

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Senate negotiators have been making progress on raising the standard for claiming asylum in the U.S. The current “credible fear” standard is too easily met and allows for release into the U.S. for months or years before a tribunal rules on the asylum claim. Many migrants don’t bother to show up for their hearings.

But Democrats are balking on “parole” for migrants that has let some 1.5 million migrants be released to live and work in the U.S. in the last two years. Republicans want to limit parole authority because they think the Administration will use it as the default even if the asylum standard is changed.

There should also be room to compromise on the GOP desire to require migrants to seek asylum first in another safe country they pass through (such as Mexico). But Mr. Schumer doesn’t want to take on his open-borders left on these policies.

Mr. Schumer taunted Republicans on Wednesday by giving them the chance to offer an amendment on the floor with their immigration priorities. This is more kabuki. He knows there isn’t enough Democratic support for such an amendment to defeat a filibuster.

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The failed vote ought to be a White House reality check. The Administration is telling everyone that U.S. money for more weapons for Ukraine runs out at the end of this month, and that Vladimir Putin may be marching on Kyiv again if the U.S. doesn’t provide more.

We don’t doubt it, but the White House seems to think it can jam Republicans to pass military aid by blaming them in advance if it all falls apart. Democrats are fooling themselves if they believe this. Support for Ukraine is Mr. Biden’s policy, and the failure will be as much his as that of Republicans in Congress. The Kremlin and the world will see more evidence of Mr. Biden’s political weakness. The winners will be Mr. Putin and U.S. adversaries abroad, and Donald Trump at home.

The way out of this mess is for Mr. Biden to get serious about an immigration compromise. Tell his negotiators to cut a deal with the GOP and then sell it to Democrats and the country as necessary to get his supplemental aid bill through a divided Congress.

The President may take some short-term heat from his left, but improving border security will help him with swing voters next year by addressing an urgent problem. He would also avoid the political ignominy of presiding over the collapse of a foreign-policy priority, and perhaps of our allies in Ukraine.

Mr. Biden campaigned as a pragmatist who could cut bipartisan deals. Well, here we are. Ukraine and Israel are political emergencies, and the Commander in Chief has to do what it takes to get a deal done.

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