WASHINGTON — A classified briefing for senators on the White House’s request for aid for Israel and Ukraine became “heated” Tuesday, with Republican members storming out of the meeting.
The briefing, led by the secretaries of defense and state, as well as the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was held behind closed doors to allow all 100 senators to ask questions about the administration’s funding request.
But it fell apart, senators from both parties said, after Republicans began asking about the border. GOP members in both chambers have demanded serious changes to immigration policy to address rising migrant crossings in exchange for passing new aid for Ukraine.
They didn’t like what they heard.
“People got up and walked out, because this is a waste of time,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called it “the most heated briefing in the SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] I’ve seen.”
“What most, or many, Republican senators want to talk about here is the border, and Sen. Schumer would prefer not to do that in this venue; obviously, there’s nobody there to talk about the border,” Hawley continued, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “So that was a point of some heated disagreement.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “It started off pretty bad … a lot of tension in the room because nobody talked about the border. In case you don’t have a television or you’ve been living in a cave, you would know that most Republicans feel like we need to address the broken border.”
The clash highlighted just how far apart the two parties remain over the issue ahead of a Senate vote expected Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s funding package. Senate Republicans have vowed to filibuster it because of a lack of sufficient immigration restrictions. Bipartisan talks on immigration policy changes fell apart at the end of last week.
And it came a day after White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned Congress in a letter that the U.S. is “out of money” and must provide more aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia by the end of the year or risk increasing “the likelihood of Russian military victories.” On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said there is a “big risk” the country could lose the war without additional U.S. aid.
Schumer left Tuesday’s briefing claiming Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pre-empted it by veering the conversation toward the border.
“It was immediately hijacked by Leader McConnell,” Schumer said. Referring to Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Schumer said of McConnell: “The first question instead of asking our panelists — he called on Lankford to give a five-minute talk about the negotiations on the border. And that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting, at all.”
He added: “One of them started — it was disrespectful — started screaming at one of the generals and challenging him to why he didn’t go to the border.”
Hawley also described the screaming, saying, “Well, usually senators don’t scream at each other in front of, you know, the secretary of defense and so forth.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told reporters that Schumer then claimed it was Republicans who were injecting the border debate into talks about the supplemental bill. Cotton described it as “Schumer running his big mouth, claiming that it was Republicans who, quote, unquote, injected immigration for border security in this debate — and I had none of that.”
Cotton said he disputed the claim, noting that the Biden administration’s supplemental request included money for the border.
“I said: ‘Nope, Republicans haven’t injected border security into this debate. Joe Biden sent us a supplemental bill with border provisions in it.’ He had the misfortune of spreading those lies right after someone had handed me a microphone,” Cotton said of Schumer.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., said of the briefing: “To say it was a waste of time would be an understatement.”
Referring to the Department of Homeland Security, Schmitt said: “It was insulting to have a meeting in there — we’ve had, like, I don’t know, a dozen meetings on Ukraine — to not have anybody in there from DHS is the height of — if there was a Mount Rushmore of tone deafness, Chuck Schumer would have his face on the mountain.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said: “We want to help Ukraine and Israel, but we’ve got to have the Democrats recognize that the trade here, the deal, is we stop the open border. They don’t want to do that. So Republicans are just walking out of the briefing because the people there are not willing to actually discuss what it takes to get a deal done.”