© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema speaks to reporters about ongoing negotiations on a U.S. border security deal at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Independent U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema said on Wednesday that Senate negotiators were “closing in” on a bipartisan border security deal, which Congress could couple with new emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel.
“We’re closing in” on a deal, Sinema told reporters following a two-hour negotiating session.
“We’ve got a lot of technical work left to do,” Sinema said, adding that presenting the 100 senators with details of a package when they return from recess next week was “reasonable.”
Wednesday’s meeting was another in a long string of negotiating sessions over the past several weeks on ways to bolster security along the southwestern border with Mexico.
For weeks, Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate have been insisting on tough border controls as part of any effort to deliver new aid to Ukraine.
Another negotiator, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, told reporters that Wednesday’s session went well. He added, however, “My impression is that Speaker Johnson has not spent one minute trying to work across the aisle to get a deal on immigration.”
He was referring to Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson.
That raised questions about the possibility that a Senate deal could simply die in the House, which was how things ended a decade ago during a long battle over a more comprehensive immigration reform effort in Congress.
Nonetheless, Murphy held out hope for a different result this time. “If we can get a big bipartisan vote in the Senate it will be looked on favorably by the House,” he said.
Last year, the House passed a sweeping immigration and border security bill that was opposed by Democrats and has not been put to a Senate vote. House Republicans have continued to demand Senate passage of that measure.
But Republican Senator James Lankford, who is leading his party’s negotiations with Sinema and Murphy, has repeatedly acknowledged that the House bill lacks the votes for passage in the Senate.