Unity for Senate Republicans cracks on immigration response

Unity for Senate Republicans cracks on immigration response

Cracks emerged Wednesday in the Senate GOP conference over how to fight President Obama on immigration but still fund the Department of Homeland Security.

A growing number of Senate Republicans said they would be open to softening language in a House-passed appropriations bill reversing Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

If they were to succeed in toning down the bill, it would set up a conflict with their colleagues across the Capitol only weeks after pledging unity at a joint retreat in Hershey, Pa. 

House conservatives have pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDriverless car industry embraces Trump’s Transportation pick Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington MORE (R-Ky.) and his colleagues to make every possible effort to pass their bill.

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Centrist Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenators crafting bill to limit deportations under Trump Cornyn: ‘Virtual certainty’ Sessions and Price will be confirmed Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything MORE (R-Maine) introduced an amendment that would repeal Obama’s 2014 order protecting the immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from deportation.

But her measure would let stand the 2012 order to exempt from deportation immigrants who came to the country at a young age and kept clean records.

Collins’s proposal is gaining traction with fellow centrists.

“I kind of like that,” said Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkBattle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate Women make little gains in new Congress MORE (R-Ill.), a top Democratic target in 2016 who, earlier this year, warned against letting an immigration fight risk Homeland Security spending.

A senior Republican aide said removing the language reversing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would make it harder for Democrats to oppose the bill.

Collins’s amendment, however, will not receive a vote if Democrats continue to block the start of debate.

For the second time in two days, Senate Democrats on Wednesday filibustered a motion to proceed to the House measure. Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerGovernments and businesses: Teaming up for taxpayers GOP senator won't rule out 2018 run for Nevada governor A holiday surprise: Will Congress protect privacy? MORE (R-Nev.), whose home state has a large Hispanic population, was the only Republican to vote with the Democrats.

Collins has an unusual potential ally on the other side of the Republican spectrum in Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump could be the most significant president of our time Cruz: I'd rather have Trump talk to Taiwan than Cuba or Iran Lewandowski: Top Cruz aide advised Trump team before NH primary MORE (R-Texas). The Tea Party conservative on Wednesday said the GOP should focus on repealing Obama’s unilateral action from November.

Cruz’s plan would bar the “prospective” expansion of the 2012 DACA program from granting legal status to new applicants but would not strip protections from immigrants who have already qualified.  

Collins, however, said she would allow new applicants to apply for the DACA.

“It would not affect the DACA program, period,” she reiterated.

A senior Republican aide acknowledged that Republicans could be vulnerable if they attempt to deport immigrants who came to the country as children and have already received legal status.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump gets chance to remake the courts Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR MORE (R-Texas) said his party should focus on the president’s executive action in November.

“I’m for whatever for will give us the critical mass to get it done,” he said.  

Other Republicans declined to entertain the possibility of compromise at this time.

“I think we need to talk about this and see if a few Democrats change their mind,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntKey Republicans ask Trump to keep on NIH director Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly picking Mattis for Defense chief Dem senator: Petraeus would have ‘real challenge’ on confirmation MORE (R-Mo.). “What the leader said is currently where I am as well. The first course of action is to do everything we can to pass the House bill.”

One GOP senator privately predicted the Senate debate would stretch out until the end of the month, when a compromise would be sent back to the House.

The lower chamber would then be under pressure to accept the Senate’s work or trigger a partial government shutdown.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire after Feb. 27 unless Congress acts. Time is running out, as both chambers plan to take a one-week recess the third week of this month. 

The House bill would fund Homeland Security through the end of the year. It includes policy riders that prevent funding from any source to be used to carry out Obama’s actions from 2014 and 2012.

The most controversial provision is the amendment sponsored by Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHouse votes to double budget for Planned Parenthood investigation Will Trump back women’s museum? The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Tenn.) that would prohibit the use of funds to consider new, renewed or previously denied DACA applications.

But even if that language is stripped, Democrats feel they have political leverage and have shown no sign of backing down.

When asked about supporting the Collins compromise, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillA Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Defense bill tackles retaliation against military sex assault victims Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks MORE (Mo.), a centrist Democrat, said, “absolutely not.”

She argued that Obama would veto any legislation that reverses any of his immigration orders.

“The only reason they’ve hooked these things up is to score political points because they know they’re not going to become law,” she said of the House riders. “So why are we playing political games with clean funding for the Department of Homeland Security at the moment every country in the world is showing a united front against terrorism?”  

The White House has warned a partial shutdown of the agency would put national security at risk and force 150,000 federal workers to go without paychecks.

 

Rebecca Shabad contributed.