Sen. Mike Lee says border deal won’t solve crisis, says it’s to give President Biden a ‘fig leaf’

A guardsman walks over rail cars with Concertina wire along the Texas-Mexico border, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
A guardsman walks over rail cars with Concertina wire along the Texas-Mexico border, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. | Eric Gay, Associated Press
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Democratic and Republican lawmakers have struggled to reach an agreement on what to do about border security, as several Republican senators — including Sen. Mike Lee — say the negotiated deal won't solve the border crisis.

This also puts foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel at risk, as the aid bill will likely be separated from negotiations over the border.

Lee, who represents Utah, said he is skeptical negotiations over the border will lead to a deal that addresses the crisis.

“I would be thrilled to be surprised with a robust border deal that actually secures our country and our communities,” he told the Deseret News. “From what I have seen, this isn’t it.”

Lee also said he believes the border deal is more about giving Democrats a chance to say they did something on the border, while he believes the deal would do little to slow the flow of migrants

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a private GOP meeting Wednesday that his conference is in “a quandary” since the politics on the southern border has “changed,” as Punchbowl News reported.

McConnell, who has continuously backed sending aid to Ukraine, cited former President Donald Trump’s ambitions to run on immigration in the 2024 presidential election, adding, “We don’t want to do anything to undermine him.”

Trump, who is the likely GOP presidential nominee after his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, said he will likely oppose the proposal, and his decision may influence some Republicans to vote no, making it tough for the funding package to pass Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House.

This “quandary” comes as House Republicans refuse to support a package that doesn’t include the elements of a House border security bill, HR2, that would restrict the number of migrants entering the country with asylum claims, mandate the continued construction of a border wall, require U.S. employers to screen workers for legal documentation, and allocate more funds for Border Patrol agents.

These negotiations come amid a surge in illegal migrant crossings — more than 300,000 in December alone — marking an all-time monthly high in the three years since this crisis has evolved, according to CBS News, which obtained the goverment data.

Sen. Lee opposes the leaked provisions in border deal

Lee told the Deseret News Thursday, “The Democrats’ primary purpose for the border deal is not to secure the border. From what little we’ve been told about this mysterious, yet-to-be-seen legislation, it would still allow nearly 2 million people to illegally enter our country every year.”

“It is being pushed to give President Biden a fig leaf going into November, so that he and his Democrat allies can pretend Biden did something to secure the border — which he could do under existing law, but refuses,” he said. “I’m not going to participate in the deception.”

Lee wrote in a post on X Wednesday that the impasse over the border isn’t the former president's fault, it’s McConnell’s. The Senate leader negotiated “deals that sharply divide Republicans while uniting Democrats,” he said.

During a press conference Wednesday, led by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Lee said the border surge is not a “result of inadequate legislation on the books,” adding the president has plenty of tools to deal with the crisis. Instead, Biden ended the Remain in Mexico policy, which would require migrants to seek asylum while staying in their home country, the Utah senator said.

Lee said leaked parts of the proposal would cut down the six-month waiting period for immigrants to receive a work permit.

“That will turn up the electromagnet, bringing in illegal immigration and it’s wrong,” Lee said. “I have great respect for colleagues who are working hard, trying to fix the problem ... but from what I’m hearing, this could cause as many problems as it solves.”

Fox News reported on other leaked provisions in the proposed bill, like enforcing mandatory removals of migrants on days where weekly encounters average above 5,000, restricting parole programs and increasing the number of ICE detention beds.

But Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who is the GOP negotiator on the bill, said he advises people “not to believe everything you read on the internet,” implying the leaked provisions may not paint an accurate picture.

Texas refuses to stand down after Supreme Court rules in favor of Biden

The Republican infighting comes amid a standoff between the Biden administration and Texas. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court said border patrol agents were allowed to remove the razor wires put up by the state that were meant to deter illegal immigration.

But the Lone Star State isn’t backing down. Gov. Greg Abbott is invoking Texas’ authority to defend itself against an invasion, which Abbott declared. He said the state’s National Guard, Public Safety Department and other personnel will secure the border.


Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, acknowledged the current administration’s failure to secure the border, which has forced Abbott to take action to protect his state in a post on X Thursday.

“While the Supreme Court rules on these actions, the real answer is for the Biden Admin to step up and enforce our laws to secure the border,” he said.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also said he supports Abbott, thanking him for taking charge. “This is not a partisan issue,” said Cox, a Republican. “This is a national security issue. This is a common sense issue. This is an American issue.” Other governors like Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, stood behind Abbott, as did Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“This supplemental bill is a kamikaze plane in a box canyon with no exit headed for a train wreck,” Cruz quipped during a press conference Wednesday.

Contributing: Suzanne Bates