CHARLESTON — Sen. Joe Manchin says he is incredibly discouraged over the failure of a border security package that had been negotiated by a bipartisan group of his colleagues.
“Everything in this bill made the border a lot safer and helped us be able to control that border than what we have today,” Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a call with West Virginia reporters Thursday.
“And if you’re playing politics with everything you do in your life, that’s the safest thing you can do is a no vote because you don’t have to explain it a whole lot. Someone’s always mad about something in this world today. But if you want to improve things, you’re going to have to stand tall and say ‘Is it better than what I’ve had? I can make a difference.’”
The package included a range of restrictive border measures, plus aid funding for U.S. allies Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
The Senate vote on Wednesday was 49-50. At least 60 votes were needed to move it forward because of the Senate’s filibuster rules.
Manchin was frustrated by how some of his colleagues voted.
“This one took the wind out of my sail,” Manchin said. “These are friends of mine; these are people I respect, I like. And to get into a situation where on Sunday they told me one thing, on Monday they were maybe by Tuesday a little doubtful and by Wednesday changed completely and tried to justify it.
“If they had just told me ‘Hey guy, it’s all about politics,’ OK, I get it. But don’t try to justify something you basically fought for and thought was so right. Now you’re justifying why you voted against it. Just be up front with it: politics and this and that.”
The border proposal had come after months of negotiations by Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma, independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Lankford said the bill would accomplish several conservative goals like building more border wall, hiring more Border Patrol agents, expanding detention capacity and speeding deportations.
Sinema, in remarks on the Senate floor, was outraged: “Turns out they want all talk and no action. It turns out border security is not a risk to our national security. It’s just a talking point for the election.”
Manchin voted in favor of the package. He said it might not have been perfect, but it was an improvement. He pointed toward its provisions for hiring of thousands more officers to evaluate asylum claims and adding hundreds more Border Patrol agents.
On asylum, Manchin said the policies would have ended “catch and release.” New standards would have required migrants to show during initial screenings that they have a reasonable possibility of being granted asylum.
“Why all of a sudden is perfect the enemy of the good?” Manchin said. “Why does it have to be just absolutely perfect. Because you know what, it’s never going to be perfect and you’re never going to vote for it unless it is perfect because that’s your political agenda.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted against the package. She had promoted border security legislation for months, but this week concluded “based on the overwhelming feedback I’ve received from West Virginians who have conveyed their concerns, I am unable to vote to advance this bill.”
The statement did not specify objections to particular policies within the negotiated border security package.
In a briefing with West Virginia reporters Thursday, Capito again cited concerns expressed by constituents. She also said senators didn’t have adequate time to consider the effects of policies in the package from the time it was unveiled last weekend to the vote on Wednesday.
She said border problems are entirely President Biden’s making and that the president has the power to get the border under control.
And she singled out a policy that meant migrants would not have been able to apply for asylum at all if illegal border crossings had reached more than 5,000 a day.
“I think honestly the 5,000-a-day provision in the past bill was very problematic, and I think it probably was one of the largest stumbling blocks because I heard repeatedly at home ‘Why are we letting 5,000 people in?’” Capito said.
“I don’t think that was the intent of the legislation that Sen. Lankford put forward, but that was the perception and sometimes perception is reality and that’s where I think it became very
Manchin contended that Langford intended for the provision to be specific enough to force action by a president.
“When you get 5,000 everything shuts down,” Manchin said. “He put that in there because he was afraid that maybe a liberal Democrat wouldn’t enforce the bill the way it was, and that would be the trigger that says ‘uh-oh, how’d this happen.’
“So if Biden wanted an open border system, that was the trigger that stopped everything. But they took that and ran with that as a ‘5,000-a-day is going to come before we do anything.’”
Manchin also criticized the border policies of the Biden administration, but he said Congress should have taken its best shot at passing law.
“Codify something,” he said. “Codify something in a bipartisan way that has that ability to endure.”