'It's a choice': Sinema-led border security deal heats up Arizona's Senate race

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., right, visits the U.S.-Mexico border in Somerton, Ariz., near the Cocopah Indian Reservation boundary on January 10, 2023.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The politics surrounding a controversial Capitol Hill border security deal is seeping into Arizona's competitive race for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat.

For months, Sinema, I-Ariz., has been a main negotiator, sponsor and advocate for a bipartisan compromise that would combine border security measures with funding for Ukraine for its war with Russia and Israel for its war in Gaza.

She hasn't officially said she is running for a second Senate term this year and has avoided the political fray as her two potential rivals waded into the fight over the deal.

Republican Kari Lake, the former TV newscaster and GOP front-runner in the Senate race, sided with former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner who wants to torpedo the agreement that could give President Joe Biden an election-year accomplishment.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has signaled support for a bipartisan border deal, although he is waiting to see the legislation's text. He was critical of Trump's meddling, which he cast as a cynical political move.

Sinema and the other lead negotiators, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and James Lankford, R-Okla., have been working on legislation that would secure the southern border, "end catch and release and modernize the outdated policies that allowed the crisis to get so out of control," a Sinema spokesperson said Monday in a written statement to The Arizona Republic.

Lankford: Republican senator censured by Oklahoma GOP for negotiating with Democrats on border deal

"For the first time in decades, we have a real opportunity to secure the border," Sinema said on X, formally known as Twitter. "Our proposal is tough but fair. It presents real solutions to regain control of the border while ensuring fair and humane treatment of migrants."

Still, the legislation's future is murky. It may go nowhere in the U.S. House of Representatives because of Trump's demands. In recent days, Trump called on Republicans in the House and Senate to oppose it and pursue a "perfect" border deal.

"We are at a place where this package is almost done and when the text comes out, senators will be able to review it and make their own decision," Sinema told CNN Friday after news of Trump's demands. "Do they want to secure the border? It's a choice."

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Friday called the Senate's border deal "dead on arrival" in the House.

Also Friday, before Lake had given her opinion about the package, Gallego spoke on MSNBC's Morning Joe where he criticized Trump's attempt to delay the legislation for political gain, as well as Lake's compliance with it.

"I'm running against Kari Lake, who claims to be the biggest Trump supporter in the world," Gallego said. "Does she agree with Trump that we should not do this, we shouldn't fix the border so it helps him and her politically?"

Soon, Lake answered Gallego's question in the affirmative.

Lake began her criticism by saying Sinema and others were trying to give Biden "a PR victory."

Dubbing the package the "(Senate Majority Leader Charles) Schumer/Sinema border deal" on CNN and Fox News, Lake said the deal would "allow 5,000 illegal immigrants into our country per day."

However, based on what is known about the deal, Lake's claim is misleading. The deal would give Biden "new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed," Biden said in a written statement. "And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law."

Additionally, if the number of migrant crossings increases above 5,000 on average per day in a given week, which is the number Lake referenced, or if migrant crossings reach 8,500 in a single day, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to close the border until that number decreases.

Lake went on to call the deal "garbage" and said, "(Arizona) was never more safe, and our border was never more secure than under President Trump. Joe Biden and enablers like Ruben Gallego and Kyrsten Sinema stripped that all away."

In a statement to The Arizona Republic, Sinema's office emphasized how the legislation would affect Arizonans.

"Arizona’s border is in crisis, and Arizona communities deserve real solutions — not tired partisan talking points," a Sinema spokesperson said. "Partisans on both sides of the aisle should take this opportunity to solve the border crisis and support Arizona communities, instead of continuing to do nothing."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake rips Kyrsten Sinema and Ruben Gallego over border compromise