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Washington Roundup: Senate border bill fails again; Trump’s FBI claims; Biden nixes student debt

A bird sits on a lamp on Capitol Hill in Washington May 23, 2024. (OSV News photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Senate Democrats failed to advance a bipartisan border security bill May 23 for the second time in a matter of months.

The same week, top law enforcement officials pushed back on a claim made by former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, about the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property for confidential government material.

The Biden administration also announced the cancellation of an additional $7.7 billion in student debt for 160,000 Americans. And a Catholic aid group expressed concern about the House’s version of the farm bill.

Border bill fails to advance

The Senate on May 23 did not advance the border legislation previously negotiated by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. The bill failed in a 43-50 vote.

The same legislation failed to advance in February after Trump, despite his own hardline stance on immigration policy, argued passing the bill would aid President Joe Biden in the November election.

The bill, if passed, would implement strict new migration policies for the U.S.-Mexico border, among other measures. But Catholic migration advocates previously expressed concern about the implications of the legislation, particularly for people seeking asylum.

The legislation was widely expected to fail, as even some of its negotiators did not support bringing it up for another vote.

“So we’re here again,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said May 23.

“Just like three months ago, Senate Republicans rejected the strongest and most comprehensive bipartisan border security bill Congress has seen in a whole generation,” Schumer said. “It’s a sad day for the Senate, a sad day for America. Look, I understand that today’s bill was not going to win every Democratic vote or every single Republican vote. That’s what bipartisanship is. It’s a compromise. We had hoped that Republicans, having supported this bill once, would put aside politics and rise to the occasion. Sadly, they did not.”

But Lankford and Sinema–two of the three negotiators of the border deal–voted against it.

“Instead of getting back to serious discussions to fix a very real problem, the Senate held a show vote with the sole purpose of pointing fingers at the other party,” Sinema wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“These political games are exactly why Americans have lost faith in their elected leaders,” Sinema, who is not seeking reelection to the Senate in November, added.

Lankford, likewise, said on the Senate floor, “When Senator Murphy and Senator Sinema and I started working on this months ago, we were working to solve it. We were not able to get that done.”

“But today is not a bill; today is a prop,” he said. “Today is a political messaging exercise. Today is an opportunity to be able to have a vote that’s sitting out there so people can send fundraising emails out later tonight and say, ‘Look, I tried to do something,’ when no work was actually done to try to get something done and completed and passed today.”

Trump FBI claims called ‘false and extremely dangerous’

Attorney General Merrick Garland on May 23 pushed back on what he called a “false and extremely dangerous” claim made by Trump that the FBI was authorized to assassinate him during a search of his Florida property.

Trump faces allegations that he illegally retained classified documents and stored them at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving the White House, and not cooperating with officials’ attempts to retrieve those documents. Officials searched that property in August 2022.

Trump took to his Truth Social website May 21 to claim that Biden was “locked & loaded ready to take me out,” in the search. In his post, Trump claimed he was “shown Reports” that Biden’s Justice Department “AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE” in their search of the property for classified documents.

But the FBI said the language used in documents authorizing the search was “standard” and not specific to the Trump case.

“The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force,” the FBI said in a statement. “No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

At an unrelated press conference, Garland said the document in question “is the Justice Department’s standard policy, limiting the use of force as the FBI advises it as part of the standard operations plan for searches.”

“And in fact, it was even used in the consensual search of President Biden’s home,” Garland said of a search for classified material at Biden’s property in Wilmington, Delaware, to which the president consented.

Biden issues additional round of student debt forgiveness

Biden announced a new round of federal student debt forgiveness May 22 that his administration said will provide relief to 160,000 borrowers.

In a May 22 statement, Biden said his administration would ease some debt for people enrolled in the SAVE Plan, public service workers such as teachers, nurses, or law enforcement officials, or borrowers who were approved for relief under the Income-Driven Repayment program.

“Today’s announcement comes on top of the significant progress we’ve made for students and borrowers over the past three years,” Biden said. “That includes providing the largest increases to the maximum Pell Grant in over a decade; fixing Public Service Loan Forgiveness so teachers, nurses, police officers, and other public service workers get the relief they are entitled to under the law; and holding colleges accountable for taking advantage of students and families.”

The Biden administration’s latest round of debt relief follows the failure of the administration’s broader effort to reduce student debt. The Supreme Court in 2023 rejected Biden’s debt relief plan, which sought to forgive up to $20,000 each in student debt for about 43 million borrowers.

The Catholic Church has typically framed the issue of debt within its social teaching on the dignity of the human person. While addressing the issue of debt incurred by poorer countries, St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus” taught that debt repayment in principle is just, but it cannot be “paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices.”

“In such cases it is necessary to find — as in fact is partly happening — ways to lighten, defer or even cancel the debt, compatible with the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress,” the pontiff said.

CRS concerned about House’s farm bill

Lawmakers on the House and Senate agriculture committees recently released differing frameworks for the 2024 farm bill. Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church in the U.S., has expressed concern about the House version.

The federal farm bill funds agriculture, nutrition and conservation programs and is typically passed every five years. However, amid a stalemate, the 2018 law expired in September, and Congress extended it for a year, leaving lawmakers with a new deadline shortly before the 2024 elections.

The present farm bill frameworks follow months of negotiations, but the two versions differ in key respects, raising questions about whether the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate can reconcile them.

In response to the House Agriculture Committee advancing its version of the 2024 farm bill, Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy at CRS said in a statement May 24, “We remain concerned that the bill, as presently written, risks reaching 2.3 million fewer people than those currently participating in Food for Peace programs.”

O’Keefe said CRS was concerned that the House version “requires that at least half of the Food for Peace budget be spent on purchasing U.S. commodities and ocean freight; it creates new earmarks to procure ready-to-use-therapeutic food out of scarce humanitarian funding; and it shifts decision-making authority away from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”

O’Keefe said the approach taken by the House’s farm bill “undermines how these multi-year programs fight hunger in communities globally.” Instead, he urged lawmakers to advance a farm bill that can “respond to market conditions and assist the most vulnerable farmers to participate in functioning local markets and continue on the journey to self-reliance.”

“We acknowledge that Chairman Thompson expressed his interest prior to the markup to ‘do no harm’ in his Farm Bill, but good intentions did not make good enough legislation,” he said.

O’Keefe added that “CRS stands ready to work with all stakeholders toward bipartisan consensus that makes international food assistance programs more effective, efficient and able to reach more people.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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