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Immigration standoff stalls U.S. Senate $1.66 trillion government funding bill


The U.S. Capitol is seen as Congress continues work on passing a $1.66 trillion government funding bill in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A standoff over U.S. immigration policy stalled movement on a $1.66 trillion government funding bill in the Senate on Thursday, raising the risk of a partial shutdown of federal agencies just days before the Christmas holiday.

Progress on the bill — which includes $44.9 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine and bans the use of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on federal government devices — halted after conservative Republican Senator Mike Lee introduced an amendment meant to slow immigration.

The amendment would require the United States to maintain a policy known as Title 42, a policy implemented under Republican former President Donald Trump at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented hundreds of thousands of immigrants from seeking asylum. It grants border officials the ability to rapidly expel migrants to Mexico without a chance to seek asylum during public health emergencies.

The policy was set to expire earlier in the week, but the Supreme Court put the brakes on Title 42’s end, as it considers litigation brought by Republican-led states.

“The omnibus contains nothing to secure the border, and in fact contains language undermining border security,” Lee wrote on Twitter, referring to the spending bill. “Without an up-or-down vote on Title 42, every Senate Republican should oppose.”

The path forward is fraught.

It is unclear whether the Democratic-led Senate would accept a vote on the amendment. Such an amendment could pass with the help of moderate Democrats, but even so the resulting bill would face pushback from Democrats in the House of Representatives, who also need to pass the spending package before it can go to Democratic President Joe Biden for his signature.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday said he was still hopeful about passing the spending bill.

“I hope we can finish the omnibus today,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t.”

Should legislators fail to reach an agreement, they will need to resort to a short-term continuing resolution, which keeps the government open with essentially no increases in funding. If they also fail to pass a continuing resolution by Saturday, the government will partially shut down.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has said that if the $1.66 trillion bill fails, his caucus would push for a continuing resolution into next year, when Republicans take the majority in the House.

That could force a renegotiation of the sweeping bill.