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Senate GOP hardens position on parole in Ukraine-border negotiations

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Senate Republicans are hardening their demands for parole changes to be part of border negotiations, which are stalled out as negotiators struggle to strike a deal.

Now, GOP senators are pushing for an explicit cap on parole, they said after a closed-door meeting to discuss the potential agreement Wednesday. Senate Democrats and the White House are adamantly against restricting the president’s parole authority to release migrants into the United States — but with few options left to unlock Ukraine aid, Republicans believe there’s still room for them to leverage the issue.

“There are a couple of ideas out there about how to deal with it. But one that seems to have a lot of support is inserting a cap aligned with what we do on refugees and other categories,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

Republicans coming out of the meeting still stressed that there’s a way to go on a final deal, which lead Republican negotiator Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) had hoped to have as soon as this week — but he said afterward that “we’re not that close, by any means.”

Senate Republicans are demanding that border and immigration policy changes be tied to the $106 billion national security supplemental package, which includes aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the southern border. Negotiations have yielded progress on asylum claims and expanding expulsions authorities, but parole remains the biggest obstacle to a deal.

Lankford confirmed that Senate Republicans are interested in a cap on parole, arguing that “the frustration is the administration has used [parole] in a way no administration ever has” by releasing migrants in the interior. He said he, the Biden administration and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) have “swapped a lot of paper back and forth, and clearly we’re not resolved” on parole.

Senators characterized the meeting largely as a policy presentation, with few surprises. Parole has been an ongoing issue in negotiations — and conservative senators have been increasingly interested in tying some form of immigration metrics to the deal as well. The specifics of what those metrics would be or how they would be enforced are still unclear.

There is also still no bill text being presented to members, making it difficult for some lawmakers to forecast their support. What’s more, many Republicans said they didn’t think the Biden administration would implement their ideas unless they are carefully prescribed in legislation.

“It’s not in writing, so I can’t be comfortable. No one can, until they read it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Lawmakers also left the meeting with little more confidence that the deal could actually pass the House, where conservatives are likely to shirk it. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said it’d “certainly” be more difficult getting votes for a deal in the House. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said “it’d be very hard to pass the way it is right now, to be honest with you.”

Thune earlier Wednesday warned that if the House were to try to amend any Senate-approved bill, he doesn’t know whether the bill could gain the necessary support for passage.

“I just don’t know where the votes come from. Because there are Republicans over there for whom nothing is good enough unless it’s H.R. 2,” Thune said, referring to House Republicans’ immigration bill.

Senate Republicans are still expecting some from a deal though, even if the timing remains unclear. And how exactly the Senate will pass it is up in the air, too.

“I think there will be a deal,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “And I think the closer we get to a vehicle where you can put that deal on, the more likely a deal materializes.”