Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), armed with the candor of a politician nearing the end of his career, on Thursday denounced Donald Trump’s efforts to wave Republican senators off an immigration deal so the former president can keep using the border as a cudgel against President Joe Biden.
“I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump,” he told reporters on Thursday. “And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.”
“Someone running for president ought to try and get the problem solved as opposed to saying, ‘hey, save that problem, don’t solve it, let me take credit for solving it later,’” he added.
Trump’s intervention is close to completely scuttling the deal, the product of months of negotiating by a bipartisan Senate group. As recently as Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was saying it’s the “ideal time to do it.”
“This is a unique opportunity where a divided government has given us an opportunity to get an outcome,” McConnell added in a press conference.
“To lose this opportunity to get it passed into law, I think, is malpractice,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said last week.
Trump put a quick end to all of that.
“Politics on this have changed,” McConnell told Republican senators of the border legislation on Wednesday, per NBC News.
“We don’t want to do anything to undermine him,” he added of Trump.
It’s a stunningly naked display of fealty to Trump — and the congressional majorities he’d presumably bring with him if he won — over taking action to address what Republicans have claimed for years is the biggest crisis the country faces. It’s particularly reflective of Trump’s power, as even Senate Republicans were surprised by how much Democrats were willing to give away to strike a deal. That dynamic reveals both how damaging the border crisis talking points have been to them, and how badly they want to pass Ukraine aid, which was conceptually linked to the immigration deal.
Trump had already been leaning on House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) to reject the deal before the particulars had even come into focus. On Fox News last week, Johnson said that “President Trump is not wrong” that the Senate bill isn’t needed to address the border. “He and I have been talking about this pretty frequently. I talked to him the night before last about the same subject.”
He added that it didn’t “sound good at the onset,” though he hadn’t seen the final text.
Romney has been more cutting about the political capitulation of his Republican peers than many Democrats have at this point. Vice President Kamala Harris commented on the situation during an episode of Katie Couric’s podcast released Thursday.
“Sadly, you know, we want to fix it, they want to run on it,” she said. “They want a political issue to run on in November.”
Some individual Democrats have voiced their disgust — Republicans are “taking orders from Donald Trump and actively obstructing a bipartisan border deal,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said at a hearing this week — but leadership hasn’t launched a full-throated condemnation.
While Trump’s interference almost certainly dooms the bipartisan border deal, it also puts passing aid for Ukraine — along with money for Israel and Taiwan, which were also linked to the border legislation — at existential risk.
Many Republicans, including McConnell, strongly support funding Ukraine. But with Trump unilaterally removing the immigration red meat they would have attached, it would be nearly impossible to clear it through the House where there is a small but powerful contingent that fiercely opposes continued aid.