Boozman, Cotton oppose Senate bills on U.S. border, overseas aid

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas' U.S. senators on Wednesday joined a majority of Republican colleagues in blocking a bipartisan legislative package with border security and aid to the United States' allies, as the chamber plans to reconsider a similar proposal without border-related language.

The Senate voted 49-50 on advancing the $118.3 billion proposal, well short of the 60-vote threshold for ending debate and proceeding to future votes. Sens. John Boozman of Rogers and Tom Cotton of Little Rock were among the 44 Republican nay votes.

After the cloture vote, Congress' upper chamber transitioned to considering a $95.3 billion security measure which does not include the bipartisan immigration and border security proposal. The Senate agreed 58-41 to reconsider the matter today, leaving the vote open for four hours amid discussions on senators' best strategy for getting to the necessary 60 votes.

Boozman and Cotton voted no the second time around as well.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Senate Republicans needed to use Wednesday evening "to figure themselves out" before the chamber resumes legislative business today.

"Hopefully, that will give the Republicans the time they need," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Congressional Republicans have demanded legislation addressing border security for the past four months, leading to a bipartisan Senate group negotiating a related framework. The bill would implement tougher asylum standards and close the border if illegal encounters surpass a set amount.

By Monday evening, multiple Republican senators, including Cotton, had announced their opposition to the legislation. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and other House Republican leaders described the idea of Congress' lower chamber considering the proposal as "a waste of time."

Former President Donald Trump, the top candidate in the Republican presidential nomination race, also has denounced the bill.

Boozman -- who has shared his gratitude for Oklahoma Republican James Lankford's work as the lead Republican in negotiations -- has called on Schumer to allow an "open and transparent amendment process" before a final vote on the package.

During a conversation Wednesday with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Boozman emphasized his preference for considering amendments. The senator from Rogers said any accepted changes should require President Joe Biden to oversee changes addressing the rise in migrants entering the United States illegally.

"What we're trying to do is, from a legislative standpoint, making sure that he has to secure the border," Boozman said.

"The president wants certain things and we want certain things, and that's what it's all about," he added. "We are very, very interested in making sure that, at the end of the day, we have a bill that forces the president to take action to actually secure the border."

The bill without border policy changes dedicates $60.1 billion for supporting Ukraine, $14.1 billion for assisting Israel, and $4.8 billion toward Indo-Pacific partners and regional efforts. A portion of the money for Ukraine would focus on weapons and other equipment, including munitions developed at sites including Highland Industrial Park in Camden.

House Republicans have been adamant in pushing the Senate to consider its immigration proposal -- House Resolution 2 -- with stricter asylum guidelines and punishments for people entering the country illegally. Johnson led a group of Republicans -- including Reps. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro and French Hill of Little Rock -- to the southern border last month to demand action on border security.

"The problem is not immigration right now; it's border security," Crawford said Tuesday. "We can't have good immigration policy with an open border, and so that means we have to control our border."

While speaking to reporters Tuesday after House Republicans failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., expressed doubts about whether the divided Congress can even pass a proposal addressing border security and immigration "for the rest of this campaign season."

Boozman said he thinks Congress is capable of enacting such legislation, even during a year in which federal lawmakers will also have to consider appropriations bills and a new farm bill.

"We'll get this done eventually. We're a divided country. As a result of that, it just takes longer," he said. "We're working hard, in this particular case, to get a good outcome representing the people in Arkansas [and] the people throughout the United States that are very, very concerned about border security."