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The battle over policy at the U.S.-Mexico border is picking up steam in Congress

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Democratic-led Senate will vote on border legislation again this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. They'll vote on the same bipartisan bill that failed to pass earlier this year. Republicans at that time blocked their own bill at the urging of their presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is campaigning on immigration. So now the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer plans another vote as we head into election season.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: The Senate will vote on our bipartisan border bill on Thursday. All those who say we need to act on the border will get a chance this week to show they're serious, serious about fixing the border.

FADEL: NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us to discuss. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Claudia, why revisit the bill now?

GRISALES: It's a reflection of what's become a top issue for the national electorate now and the critical role it will play in this year's election. Senate Democrats want to put Republicans on record. They were once pushing for exactly this kind of legislation but quickly revolted after a bipartisan group put out the final plan in February. And this came after months of negotiations on both sides. And as we know, this bill would've tightened rules for asylum and given the president authority to shut down the border. At the time of the negotiations for this bill, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that this was the best deal Republicans could get even if they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

FADEL: Is there any role here for President Biden to weigh in?

GRISALES: The White House said Biden spoke with Republican leaders yesterday to encourage them to join Democrats to pass this legislation and to stop playing politics. That said, the White House said the White House is not ruling out possible executive actions Biden could pursue at the border.

FADEL: Obviously, Democrats are expected to vote for the plan. What about Republican?

GRISALES: Well, they're still expected to vote against it, and that includes one of the original Republican authors of the border bipartisan bill, Oklahoma's James Lankford slammed the plan on the floor recently, saying this vote is part of a partisan messaging war.

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JAMES LANKFORD: Listen, if we're gonna solve the border issues, it's not going to be by doing competing messaging bills. If we're going to solve this, let's sit down like adults and let's figure out how we're gonna actually resolve this together.

GRISALES: He went on to say that this vote is simply a way to try to, quote, "poke Republicans in the eye." He argued the American people will see right through this as a politically driven effort and asked more importantly why Congress is not fixing the issue.

FADEL: And what's happening with border legislation in the Republican-led House?

GRISALES: There is not much happening when we look at the bipartisan angle there. Both parties are simply working on their own plans. House Speaker Mike Johnson is focused on partisan border bills that only have support from his own Republican Party. Meanwhile, House Democrats were looking to build a bipartisan border task force and focus on a series of initiatives, but that plan appears to be on ice. So it's a reminder of the many challenges to getting anything substantive done on this issue from Congress and how it's largely focused on messaging to win key battleground districts now especially worried about immigration.

FADEL: NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.