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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) and his colleagues to make every possible effort to pass their bill.

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Centrist Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGun proposal picks up GOP support Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD 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 KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump 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 Arthur HellerNevada senators urge airlines to enact new policies after Las Vegas shooting Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets 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 CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration 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 Dean BluntThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Another health funding cliff puts care for millions at risk Top Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA 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 BlackburnEquifax breach is the wake-up call we expected Tennessee governor considering Senate run Five major potential Senate candidates 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 Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Las Vegas highlights Islamist terrorism is not America's greatest domestic threat 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.