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Congress' debates over immigration and the border continue in 2024

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Congress returns next week, and already fights over immigration hang over other key items on the agenda. For example, there is a deadline in mid-January to pass a spending bill, and Republicans say they will not approve more money for Ukraine and Israel in that bill unless Democrats agree to change border policies. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is at the Capitol. Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Deirdre, start by telling us more about how this debate over immigration is having an impact on Congress' agenda for 2024.

WALSH: Well, as you noted, the fight over the border was already part of the debate over any new aid for Ukraine and Israel. Republicans insisted those issues had to be linked. But now it's being added to the debate over government funding. House Speaker Mike Johnson traveled to the border yesterday with dozens of Republicans and insisted the House GOP bill, which would finish building the wall and reinstate a bunch of Trump-era policies, is the only way to fix the problem and has to be part of any national security funding. But that's a nonstarter in the Senate. Republican Jim Jordan said if they can't get their bill into law, lawmakers should use the power of the purse to shut down the border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: No money can be used to process or release into the country any new migrants - to just say, suspend it now, which the president can do. But if he won't do it, we should put that one sentence in must-pass legislation.

WALSH: And we are now roughly two weeks away from a deadline when several federal agencies are going to run out of money.

SUMMERS: You mentioned that the House Republican position is a nonstarter in the Senate. So I'm curious. What is happening across the Capitol? I understand there are bipartisan negotiations over border policy reforms.

WALSH: They're still talking. They're working remotely today and having negotiations. They're trying to find a deal that they can attach to the national security funding package. Senate negotiators are focused on changes to asylum rules, limiting who can enter the U.S. and who can apply for asylum. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear the House GOP position of insisting on their bill, which passed with zero Democratic votes, is unacceptable. But Schumer acknowledged both parties are going to have to give in these talks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: We know that we believe strongly we have to help solve this problem at the border, and we're willing to meet the Republicans, you know, a good part of the way.

SUMMERS: And, Deirdre, as this debate heats up, House Republicans are moving to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. When do they expect to act on that?

WALSH: There's a House hearing next Wednesday in the Homeland Security Committee to take up articles of impeachment. The chairman of that committee, Mark Green, says Mayorkas has failed to enforce restrictions at the border, and he has to be held accountable. Many in the far right in the House have been pushing for this for months. It's really something that the Republican base wants. But even if the House does approve articles of impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas, it's not likely he's going to be convicted or removed by the Democratic Senate.

SUMMERS: And, Deirdre, this is, of course, a presidential election year.

WALSH: Right.

SUMMERS: Are we already seeing signs of how this issue is playing out on the campaign trail?

WALSH: We are. I mean, as you know, the Republican front-runner in the presidential election, Donald Trump, made immigration the centerpiece of his first campaign in 2016. He's continuing to try to paint his primary opponents in 2024 as weak on border security. It's something the base really cares about. In terms of congressional campaigns, we're already seeing this issue play out in a special election coming up in February 13 in New York to replace Republican George Santos, who was expelled last month. One of the first ads in the race is about the border, and it's coming from Democrats. An outside super PAC supporting Tom Suozzi is touting his record addressing the border and crime - just shows you how much Democrats recognize this issue is important to voters not just on the border but in swing districts.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "EXPERIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.