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Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the lead GOP negotiator on the Senate border and foreign aid package.
Donald Trump, Mike Johnson and many other Republicans have blasted a border deal negotiated by Sen. James Lankford. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republicans Leave Lankford Out to Dry

The Oklahoma senator took a political risk by negotiating a border deal — and it’s probably all for nothing.

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford spent months negotiating the recently released border and immigration deal. Now he’s watching his Republican colleagues set it on fire.

It appears the deal, once backed by leadership, will likely wind up with hardly any Republican “yes” votes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the day after supporting the bill, stated publicly that it will not become law. Republicans who railed about the need for border legislation and even directly encouraged the latest negotiations have now left Lankford out to dry.

“Look what they did to James Lankford. It’s disgusting,” fellow negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday. “They put him out there and asked him on their behalf to negotiate a compromise, and then they didn’t even give him the chance to argue the merits.”

Leading the negotiations was a political risk for Lankford, who has faced heat from Republicans back home for working with Democrats. When a reporter asked Lankford on Tuesday how it felt to be hit by a bus by his colleagues, he quipped: “And backed up.”

The deal had nearly fallen apart even before it was released on Sunday. Former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson have urged lawmakers to oppose it, and McConnell appeared to blame the House for the deal faltering.

“I think Senator Lankford has done a remarkable job,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “However, we had a very robust discussion about whether or not this product could ever become law, and it’s been made pretty clear to us by the speaker that it will not become law.”

Other Republicans who oppose a border deal insisted they weren’t the ones letting down Lankford — McConnell and other leaders were.

“They put him on the edge of a branch and they sawed the branch off,” Sen. Ted Cruz said of Republican leaders at a press conference. “That, unfortunately, is a pattern we see with Republican leadership here, and that’s why there are very real concerns about our leadership.”

Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall said at the same press conference that “Lankford did the very best job he could do with the cards he was dealt.”

Some Republicans, however, lamented their colleagues’ rapid turn against the deal.

“I wish we had given James [Lankford] the benefit of the doubt to take a look at the text before we started speaking our opposition,” Sen. Joni Ernst told NPR on Monday.

Casey Murray is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.