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Sen. Chris Murphy says GOP's immigration policy demands are too extreme

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy during a January trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. Murphy is a key player in trying to iron out a border deal in Congress.
Office of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy during a January trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. Murphy is a key player in trying to iron out a border deal in Congress.

Congress has yet to approve additional aid for Ukraine, and an effort to do that before years end seems to have fallen apart for now. Republicans have said they will not approve that aid unless the bill also includes money for an unrelated crackdown on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. An administration briefing on Ukraine seems to have dissolved into a shouting match last evening. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, was there for some of it. He spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep on "Morning Edition" to talk about the apparent stalemate.

Steve Inskeep: What happened?

Sen. Murphy: Well, you are very right that Republicans are playing a dangerous game with security of the world. They are refusing to support additional aid to Ukraine, despite the fact that they say they believe it's important, until we make major hardline changes on immigration policy. Now, there's lots of unrelated issues that I care about, you know, I care deeply about the gun violence crisis in this country. But I'm not making demands that we solve that in order to get my vote on Ukraine because I think it's important for the security of the world to make sure that Vladimir Putin doesn't march through Ukraine and into Europe.

Inskeep: How did people end up shouting at each other last night?

Sen. Murphy: It looked to me like pretty planned theatrics and I think Republicans are coming face to face with the real dangerous nature of the demands that they have made. We're willing to talk to them about changes in border policy, but we can't implement hardline changes that completely shut down the border. If they want to be reasonable about changes in immigration policy, then I think we can probably get to a point where they get something and then they also are in a position to vote for Ukraine aid. I wish they weren't putting us in this position. I wish they weren't holding Ukraine aid hostage to this domestic political issue, but that's where we are. Democrats are trying to be responsible and negotiate with them. They just haven't been terribly reasonable in their demands.

Inskeep: Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader — who has been very strong, among others in his party on aid to Ukraine — has said he simply will not allow Ukraine aid to pass without a border crackdown of the kind that Republicans want. Given McConnell's broad support for Ukraine, is that not something you need to take seriously?

Sen. Murphy: But if you broadly support Ukraine, if you think it is important for the United States and for the world to stop Vladimir Putin from marching into Europe, why condition your support for that vital investment upon the resolution of maybe the most difficult domestic political issue that we face, immigration. A cynic would say that, in fact, that's a way to guarantee that Putin wins, to suggest that Ukraine won't get their money unless Congress unwinds the vexing 40 year problem of immigration reform. So I hope Mitch McConnell is telling the truth when he says that he supports Ukraine, but it's certainly a curious way to support Ukraine, to say that they will only get their money if my hardline demands on a completely unrelated issue get met.

Inskeep: I want to figure out what the hardline demands are, you referred to a threat to a demand to shut down the border, to resolving a 40 year crisis. But I don't feel I have a clear idea of what you believe Republicans want, that you could not accept. Are their demands really that sweeping? And are they specific at all?

Sen. Murphy: I certainly have been reluctant to negotiate in public as the lead democratic negotiator on this question of border policy changes. But I think I can characterize it this way. I and Democrats acknowledged that right now there are far too many people crossing the border and being released into the country, many of them don't have a legitimate claim of asylum. We want to change the laws and surge resources to the border so that far fewer people are crossing and far fewer people are released into the country that don't have a legitimate claim of asylum. Republicans want to close the border, just close it, so that even people who are legitimately fleeing terror and torture, have no opportunity to present their case. Now, that's a demand that sounds familiar, because it's what Donald Trump ran on. But I don't think it's in the best traditions of this country to deny people with legitimate claims of asylum access to the United States. And I don't think that that's what the American people support. So that's where we are stuck. The Democrats are willing to make significant progress, changing the law and resources to reduce the number of people being led into the interior. Republicans are making much more hardline demands.

Inskeep: Are you essentially alleging that Republicans have taken the position that they will not vote for something they want, unless they also get something that they also want? That's essentially what they're saying to you?

Sen. Murphy: I think that's exactly what they're saying. They are also making it clear that they are only going to vote for Ukraine with hardline immigration policy changes and that's something they know probably can't pass Congress right now.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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