Tempers flared on the Senate floor Thursday when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to explain why he voted against advancing the border security deal she negotiated and Graham responded by panning it as a “half-ass” effort to secure the border.
Sinema appeared frustrated about Graham’s vote to block the border deal from even coming up for debate on the Senate floor after Graham and his staff played what she called an “integral” role in crafting the bipartisan deal, along with Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Sinema challenged Graham to justify his vote to block debate on the bill, which also included other foreign policy spending including aid for Ukraine and Israel.
Graham said the deal Sinema negotiated “did a pretty good job in many ways” but added, “I didn’t think it was enough.”
Sinema then asked why he blocked the bill from even coming to the floor, depriving his colleagues the chance to offer amendments to improve it.
That’s when the fireworks started to fly.
Graham said he didn’t think Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would have given him a chance to offer amendments that had any chance of passing and then boiled the matter down as bluntly as he could.
“Here is what I’m saying. This has been a half-ass effort to deal with border security,” he declared.
That rebuke didn’t sit well with Sinema, who worked through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day breaks with her fellow negotiators to put together the 250-page border deal.
She tried to ask Graham several follow-up questions, but her colleague from South Carolina refused to yield the floor, his voice rising with passion as he vented his complaints about how the bill was put together behind closed doors.
“I didn’t see any willingness by anybody to allow an amendment process where we could deal with the border issue,” Graham said hotly. “That’s ass-backwards.”
When Sinema finally got a chance to ask Graham another question, she reminded him of basic Senate floor procedure that only allows amendments to be considered after senators approve a motion to proceed to a bill.
“So could you help me understand why you voted against the motion to proceed, before we’re able to offer any amendments?” she asked.
But Graham scoffed at the notion that there would have been a real chance to change the border deal that Sinema, Lankford and Murphy negotiated with the White House.
“I think the fix is in,” he said. “That’s why I voted no, because I didn’t see any willingness” to have a lengthy debate over amendments.
“So to my colleague from Arizona: no, no, no. This has not been a real effort to find border security in a bipartisan way,” he declared, insisting that Schumer tried to rush the bill through the chamber.
Graham argued that when the Senate last passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, the process took weeks, and he noted that as one of the architects of the deal, “we got the crap kicked out of us for weeks.”
“We did not do that here, so you’re losing votes on Ukraine,” he told Sinema.
Sinema seemed perplexed by Graham’s claim that it had not been a true bipartisan effort, noting that “Sen. Graham’s team and Sen. Graham himself were integral parts” of the four-month negotiation.
Murphy, the lead Senate Democratic negotiator, backed up Sinema, by pointing out that Graham had a lot of opportunity to shape the border deal.
“His top staff were in the room when we negotiated the bill. We negotiated key provisions directly with him,” he said.
Updated at 5:40 p.m.
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