6 min read

Five bipartisan efforts to watch

From border security to legacy admissions, what lawmakers are working on across the aisle.
Five bipartisan efforts to watch
The U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by Brian Auer)

Good morning! It’s Friday, November 10, 2023. The 2024 elections are 361 days away. The Iowa caucuses are 66 days away.

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Polls show that Americans want to hear more about legislators working across the aisle in Congress — the type of bipartisan efforts that do go on every day, behind the scenes, but often get lost in all the coverage of dysfunction and the latest partisan noise. At least one day a week, I like to elevate what’s going right in our political system instead of what’s going wrong.

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Now, let’s dive in: Here are the latest bipartisan efforts in Washington you should know about...

Deep dive: Border security

In recent years, there has perhaps been no issue that have inspired more attempts at a bipartisan solution — only for a deal to remain elusive — than immigration reform and border security.

There have been several bipartisan “gangs” of lawmakers who have attempted to strike compromises tying the two issues together, most famously the “Gang of Eight,” who managed to pass their 2013 bill through the Senate in a 68-32 vote — only for then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to refuse to bring it to a vote in the House.

But none of the “gangs” have been successful — which is perhaps why a new group of bipartisan senators is shrugging off that label. “It’s not a gang,” Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters last week. “It’s definitely not.”

But whatever you call it, there is fresh hope for a bipartisan border security deal. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lankford, Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) met for several hours this week and plan to continue negotiating through the weekend, per CBS News.

These are legislators with real heft — Bennet was a “Gang of Eight” member; Murphy, Sinema, and Tillis were key negotiators behind last year’s bipartisan gung control deal. There is also an added urgency to their talks: congressional Republicans have said they will only support additional Ukraine assistance if border security measures are attached to it, meaning Democrats need these negotiations to work if they want to send more aid to Kyiv. (Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — one of Congress’ biggest champions of Ukraine aid — has joined House Speaker Mike Johnson in setting this condition.)

But finding a solution will remain an uphill battle; there’s a reason the U.S. immigration system hasn’t been meaninfully updated since 1996. Senate Republicans released their opening offer this week, a proposal that calls for resumed construction of the border wall, increased pay for Border Patrol agents, strict limits to the asylum process, and an end to broad-based grants of humanitarain parole (which allows certain foreign nationals to temporarily enter the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons).

Democrats are likely to balk at some of those changes, but there is a growing recongition within the White House that the party will have to swallow some changes to asylum law. Traditionally, Democrats have pushed for an expanded path to citizenship in exchange for increased border security; this time, they may have to accept that Ukraine aid is all they’ll get in return, especially since some of their own party leaders are calling for tougher border security anyways.

The path to a deal — something that can get 60 votes in the Senate and pass through Johnson’s House — remains narrow. But some lawmakers believe the twin pressures of Ukraine aid and bipartisan calls to stem the flow of migrants could create the space for a compromise.

“I think it’s a perfect time for us to make real strides on how we get better control as far as border security,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told Semafor. “We have to do it. And I’m all in on trying to help find that pathway forward.”

More bipartisanship this week

Surveillance: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and Reps. Warren Davidson (R-OH) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced a bipartisan, bicemeral bill that would reauthorize a key surveillance authority while adding new privacy protections.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the U.S. government to collect the digital communications of foreign nationals located outside the U.S., is set to expire at the end of the year. The intelligence community has said it would be detrimental to national seucirty to let the authority lapse; according to the NSA, 59% of the president’s daily briefing meterials stem from intelligence collected under Section 702.

But Section 702 also allow the government to pick up the communications of American citizens when they are in contact with the non-Americans being surveilled. The government can conduct “backdoor searches” through its database, looking to see if communications of Americans they are investigating for domestic crimes have been picked up. According to a recent report, this power has been abused thousands of times, including to investigate the January 6th Capitol riot and Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Under the new bipartisan bill, Section 702 would be reauthorized for four years — with the condition that authorities must obtain a court warrant to conduct these “backdoor searches” through their FISA database for Americans’ communications. Currently, no such warrant is required.

Legacy admissions: Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced a bipartisan bill that would deny federal accreditation to collegs and universities that give “preferntial treatment” to applicants who are related to alumni or donors, effectively ending elgacy admissions.

Elections: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced a bipartisan bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday.

Honoring Douglass: Reps. Byron Donalds (R-FL) and Andre Carson (D-IN) introduced a bipartisan resolution that would rename the House Press Gallery — the workspace for journalists covering the chamber — for Frederick Douglass. As the editor of an abolitionist newsletter, the famed civil rights leader was the first Black journalist to be accreddited to sit in the gallery.

More news to know

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced Thursday that he won’t run for re-election next year, a blow to Democrats’ hopes of keeping the Senate. Without Manchin on the ballot, the party is unlikely to be competitive in deep-red West Virginia, endangering their threadbare 51-49 majority.

In a statement, Manchin said that he will spend the next year “traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together” — sparking speculation that he could be planning to mount a third-party bid for the White House.

Headline roundup:

The day ahead.

President Biden has no public events scheduled.

Vice President Harris will travel to South Carolina, where she is expected to submit Biden’s paperwork to file in the state’s Democratic primary.

The House and Senate off for the week.

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