Lankford cites 'election year' for waning GOP support on border bill: 'Not about letting 5000 people in a day'

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Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., cited the “presidential election year” in explaining on Sunday why Republicans are backing away from the border bill he is negotiating with Senate Democrats, arguing that the supplemental package, contrary to the assertion by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is “not about letting 5,000 people in a day.” 

Lankford, under fire from the Oklahoma GOP as well over the border bill, appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” where he defended the package said to have something akin to a Title 42 power that would allow everyone at the border to be turned away. Last week, Cruz blasted the Republican compromise, however, saying it still afforded about 6 million people – or two-thirds of the 9.6 million illegal border crossings under President Biden – to illegally enter and stay. He further argued the actual text language of the legislation was being kept a secret. 

“The challenge that Sen. Cruz has and a bunch of other folks is they’re still waiting to be able to read the bill on this. And this has been our great challenge of being able to fight through the final words, to be able to get the bill text out so people can hear it. Right now there’s internet rumors is all that people are running on. It would be absolutely absurd for me to agree to 5,000 people a day,” Lankford told “Fox News Sunday” host Shannon Bream. “This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There’s no amnesty.”

Lankford argued the bill increases the number of Border Patrol agents, increases asylum officers, and increases detention beds “so we can quickly detain and then deport individuals.”


Lankford frowns

Sen. James Lankford outside the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“It ends catch and release. It focuses on additional deportation flights out. It changes our asylum process so that people get a fast asylum screening at a higher standard and then get returned back to their home country. This is not about letting 5,000 people in a day,” he said. “This is the most misunderstood section of this proposal.”

In the past four months, Lankford said, there’s only been seven days when less than 5,000 people have crossed the border in one day. “This is set up for if you have a rush of people coming at the border, the border closes down. No one gets in,” he said of the bill. “This is not someone standing at the border with a little clicker saying, I’m going to let one more. And we’re at 4,999, and then it has to stop. It is a shutdown of the border and everyone actually gets turned around.” 

Despite President Biden claiming at a campaign rally this weekend that the border supplemental would allow him to secure the border, Lankford stressed the Democrat incumbent could already secure the border now if he wanted to. Some Republicans are criticizing Lankford for pursuing the bill anyhow, essentially handing Biden a win to claim he’s made progress on the border crisis. But the senator from Oklahoma urged that the timing of the election shouldn’t affect progress. 

“Republicans four months ago would not give funding for Ukraine, for Israel and for our southern border because we demanded changes in policy. So we actually locked arms together and said, we’re not going to give you money for this. We want a change in law. And now it’s interesting, a few months later, when we’re finally going to the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. I actually don’t want a change in law,'” Lankford said. “We all have an oath to the Constitution, and we have a commitment to say we’re going to do whatever we can to be able to secure the border.”

The Republican senator noted that over the last four months, 50 people on the terror watch list were detected crossing the border. 

Cruz blasts border bill

Sen. Ted Cruz, joined by Sens. John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham, speaks on Title 42 immigration policy on May 3, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)


Tens of thousands more declared national security risks were detected crossing the border. 

“This puts in mandatory pieces that haven’t been there in the past to make this administration actually enforce the law. I would tell you that I don’t – I don’t know of anyone that believes that if President Trump was elected, he was president right now, this border would not have this problem. So the thought that somehow President Biden can suddenly be the pro-national security president in the final months of this is not believable,” Lankford continued. “We’ve had millions of people illegally cross because he opened up our border. He literally invited the world to be able to come, and they came. That’s why we have this chaos. We’ve got to do something now to be able to stop it, and then to be able to put new tools that even the Trump administration was looking for when they were president, put those tools in place for every president from here on out.” 

Later in the program, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., noted mounting criticism from his own party against Lankford. 

Lankford on Capitol Hill

Sen. James Lankford speaks to reporters as he arrives for a vote in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“He’s on a suicide mission. The Democrats do not want to secure the border,” Scott said. “This border could be secure, but we know we have a lawless administration, a completely lawless Biden administration. So the only way this is going to happen is if we have accountability that forces Biden to enforce the law. We could change all these laws. There’s laws now. Trump secured the border. Biden decided open the border on the exact same laws. We don’t need a new bill. We need something to enforce to force Biden to comply with the law.” 

Scott said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Lankford he cannot add accountability measures to the bill to require Biden to secure the border immediately. 


“Biden could do that today. Why doesn’t he do it today? I mean, he doesn’t need any of this to secure the border. Trump secured the border with the exact same laws,” Scott said. “Unless there’s some accountability measure that forces Biden to secure the border – tied to Ukraine aid, tied to something else – unless there’s something like that, Biden is not going to comply with the law. If it was important for him to comply with the law, he would do it right now. If we can’t force Biden to secure the border, we need to shut the border today.” 


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