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Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held a second vote on the bipartisan border deal. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

‘Republicans Can’t Have It Both Ways’: Why Democrats Held a Second Vote on a Doomed Border Bill

“It’s no longer a bill; it’s now a messaging prop for fundraising,” Rep. James Lankford said about this week’s border vote.

Thursday’s failed vote on a bipartisan border bill made one thing clear: Six months out from the election, senators are fully in campaign mode. Let the finger-pointing take over.

“I think it’s just a political stunt,” Republican Sen. Mike Braun told NOTUS about Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer bringing the bill to the floor a second time. “We’re not here very often, and the Democrats got more at risk probably this round.”

The bill failed 43 to 50 in a procedural vote — garnering less support than when it was first brought to the floor in February. All five vulnerable Democrats voted yes on advancing this week’s bill, even as at least three others in their party changed their minds since the bill was detached from Ukraine funding this time around.

Democrats are defending their razor-thin majority in the Senate. Five Democratic seats are in likely toss-up states, and there are only two potentially viable Democratic pickup seats (in Texas and Florida). Democrats are eager to send a message to voters that Republicans are not actually serious in their loud complaints about the border.

“I think the leader wants to make clear that the Republicans can’t have it both ways,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who added that she’d oppose any immigration or border bill that doesn’t also include a pathway to citizenship. “They cannot say that there is a problem at the border and then vote against a bill that the Republicans negotiated.”

In the lead-up to Thursday’s vote, “hypocrite” was the word of choice for both Republicans and Democrats pointing across the aisle at each other.

Sens. Eric Schmitt and Ron Johnson — who opposed the bill the first time around too — called this week’s vote a “stunt” and “political cover” for Democrats.

“It’s no longer a bill; it’s now a messaging prop for fundraising,” Sen. James Lankford said, even though he helped draft the bill and told NOTUS he stands by the content “100%.” (He voted against moving forward on Thursday.)

Democrats defending Schumer’s decision to bring it to the floor acknowledged that it was primarily to make a point.

“The American people have a right to know where members of the Senate stand on important issues, and they can go home and defend their vote,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told NOTUS.

Sen. Cory Booker, who supported the bill previously when it was attached to foreign aid, opposed it this time “because it includes several provisions that will violate Americans’ shared values,” he said in a statement.

Even though Republicans were involved in crafting the bill, former President Donald Trump had urged senators to oppose the bill the first time around. Even if it did pass the Senate this week, the bill had no chance of becoming law. House Speaker Mike Johnson vowed this week that it’d be dead on arrival in the House.

Sen. Chris Murphy said that given Republicans’ involvement in the legislation, holding another vote on it was not just about messaging.

“Every single word of this bill was exhaustively negotiated with Republicans, including the Senate Republican leader, so it’s just bullshit to suggest that this is some political show vote,” Murphy said.

As for the Democrats defending their seats in November, they waved off the accusation that the vote was all about political messaging.

“They’re the ones that made the border into a political issue,” Sen. Jon Tester said of Republicans.

Sen. Sherrod Brown echoed the sentiment. “They, who have been the most political about this, are saying we’re playing politics?” he said. “Nice try.”

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.