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Lead GOP negotiator on border talks warns ‘there’s no time’ to finish deal

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The leading GOP negotiator on border negotiations warned on Monday that essentially “there’s no time” to finish a deal and send it to the president’s desk this month.

Further, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) charged that while he was trying to ask questions of the White House and lay out a timeline for action, congressional Democrats and the Biden administration “spent all weekend talking to each other.” It’s the most bleak sign yet for border talks that have seemed severely stalled for more than a week, injecting fresh doubt into whether senators can pass any sort of bill that marries Ukraine aid with border restrictions.

And if the House leaves before the Senate clinches a deal, it could be an even bigger setback.

“It looks like the House is leaving on Thursday. If they’re leaving on Thursday or Friday, there’s no time,” Lankford said in a brief interview. “There may be, you know, a day to be able to finish writing to be able to get it done. But we have very little time here. Otherwise it slips into January.”

The warning from Lankford is either going to create a lot of urgency on Capitol Hill this week — or foreshadows a disappointing December for his talks with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). What’s more, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to speak to the Senate on Tuesday morning and make an urgent plea for more aid.

Murphy said he hoped Zelenskyy’s visit “can help convince Republicans to get this done.” Last week, the GOP blocked President Joe Biden’s foreign aid request because it lacks border security measures they demanded in exchange for greenlighting more money to Ukraine.

The three senators have been trying to find a set of new asylum, parole and detention policies both parties can live with, but so far have not been able to clinch an agreement. Murphy said on Monday that the White House is getting “more involved in these discussions” but conceded that with Congress slated to leave at the end of the week the hourglass only has a few grains of sand left.

“You don’t have the benefit of time,” he says. “If we can get a deal done, hopefully the House is willing to stay.”

Still, Murphy said they had not ended their discussions. He declined to forecast when they could finish a deal or when it could pass Congress. Amid that backdrop, multiple senators expressed frustration over the state of play.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the GOP price of border restrictions for Ukraine aid “is unserious. Again, Republicans — and only Republicans — are holding everything up because of unrealistic, maximalist demands on the border.” And several progressive senators panned the GOP’s latest border offer over the weekend.

“There are politicians here in Congress with a limited attention span that are ready to turn the channel to another channel away from Ukraine — I think that’s unfair and unrealistic,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Schumer said Democrats are “serious” about the negotiations, but Republicans contend his party is not bending enough on border restrictions. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said Schumer’s remarks indicate he “thinks it will not be done this year and he’s doing what he can lay the groundwork for blaming Republicans.”