If the continuing Senate negotiations on border security fail, U.S. economic and military aid to Ukraine will end. And if this happens, a pillar of President Biden’s foreign policy will collapse, Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian aggression will diminish, and Vladimir Putin will broaden his mission to reconstitute the Russian empire.
Mr. Biden’s entire career—his 36 years in the Senate, his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, his role during the Obama administration as chief negotiator with Mr. McConnell—has prepared him for this moment. He will fail only if he flinches.
To be sure, this won’t be an easy deal. Since winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Mr. Biden has relentlessly pursued party unity, first as an electoral strategy, then as a governing philosophy. Giving ground on immigration would weaken his party’s unity and provide more ammunition to the left-wing insurgency that has erupted over his support of Israel.
Nevertheless, he must try. Americans have long since decided that Mr. Biden’s immigration policy is a failure, and their judgment has become harsher over time. In the most recent Economist/YouGov survey, only 33% of respondents approve of his handling of this issue, a figure that drops to 27% among suburbanites and 21% for independents. Cities across the country, many governed by Democrats, are struggling to cope with a record flow of immigrants who can’t legally work. When the cost of feeding and housing them forces city leaders to cut vital services to their constituents, those leaders pay a political price. New York Mayor Eric Adams’s approval rating has fallen to 28%.
A Senate agreement will be successful only if it can pass the House. This means it must have the support of a solid majority of Republican senators, including the leadership team, not only the bare minimum of Republicans needed to give the measure the 60 votes it needs to survive a possible filibuster. Only Mr. McConnell can give Mr. Biden the assurance that an agreement would have sufficient backing.
Time isn’t on the president’s side. If this matter isn’t resolved before the House and Senate adjourn in January, the results of the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15 could convince Republican officials looking for an alternative to Donald Trump that no one is likely to defeat him for the party’s nomination. Mr. Trump, who openly opposes linking border reform to Ukraine aid, would likely view Republican cooperation with Mr. Biden on this issue as a career-ending transgression.
This is why the president must begin negotiations immediately and insist that the Senate remain in session until it passes a package that contains border reforms and aid to our allies, including Ukraine. Once this happens, he should deliver a prime-time address from the Oval Office to explain why this package is in the national interest and call on the House to enact the Senate bill.
Though Speaker Mike Johnson has reiterated his support for Ukraine aid, anti-Ukraine Republicans will likely pressure him to adjourn for the year without taking up the Senate bill. To counter such a move, Mr. Biden should make clear that he is prepared to use his constitutional authority to call the House back into session. If the speaker fails to persuade a majority of the Republican caucus to back the measure, he would face by far the most consequential decision of his career—whether to bring the bill to the floor anyway, which would probably cost him the speakership, or let the bill die, along with Ukraine’s hopes of prevailing against Russia.
It’s a high-stakes gamble for the president, but the alternative is worse. If Mr. Biden can’t secure the continuation of American aid to counter Russian aggression, the already dicey prospects for more European aid to Ukraine would darken.
The fate of Ukraine, the peace of Europe and the future of the Western alliance hang in the balance, as does Mr. Biden’s presidency. After the fiasco of the Afghanistan withdrawal, defeat in Ukraine would undermine what is left of his reputation as an effective steward of American foreign policy. As public support for his re-election shrinks, the last thing he needs is another failure.