Gun control debate pushes back GOP talk on immigration

Immigration reform legislation initially set to be unveiled as early as Thursday could be delayed until next week as the Senate’s Gang of Eight scrambles to finish the bill. 

Negotiators say they’re working on last-minute tweaks before unveiling the legislation, which also slipped down the Senate agenda following Wednesday’s announcement of a deal on gun violence legislation. 

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“I don’t see, looking forward the next few days, any major barrier in the way,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.), who has led the immigration talks. “Either the end of this week or next week. We’re still shooting for the end of this week. We have the total draft of the bill. There are still little pieces people have to go [through]. Depends how quickly we move through those.”

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (Ariz.), one of the lead Republican negotiators, said: “We’re trying but it may spill over into next week.”

“We’re out of time,” McCain said.

Negotiators characterized the remaining issues as minor and predicted they would not hold up the legislation.

GOP aides said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (R-Fla.) had been scheduled to brief a Wednesday meeting of Republican senators about the immigration reform bill. But that plan fell by the wayside after Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, announced a bipartisan deal with Democrats to expand background checks for gun sales.

One Gang of Eight member said earlier this week the bipartisan group initially hoped to unveil the immigration bill on Thursday. 

But now it appears that schedule will slip.

The negotiators still have to finalize language on H-1B visas for high-skilled workers as well as provisions affecting agricultural workers, said a person familiar with the talks.

Construction companies could be the most disappointed with the legislation, which places a low cap on immigrant workers in the building industry and sets wage standards to address the concerns of unions, according to a person briefed on the discussions.

Interests advocating for an increase in STEM visas — for immigrants with advanced science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds — are likely to be pleased with the legislation. 

A person familiar with the talks said that while there are strict caps — lower than Republicans wanted — on many types of worker visas, STEM visas will not count against the quota.

Schumer and other members of the Gang of Eight have been lobbied in recent days to boost the number of STEM visas.

IBM, Microsoft and several interest groups sent a letter to members of the Senate group Tuesday urging them to make up for the shortage of U.S. workers with technical training.

“Unfortunately, our country is not producing enough workers to fulfill the ever-growing talent needs of our most innovative companies,” they wrote.

The companies cited a study predicting that between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. economy will produce more than 120,000 computing jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree, while the nation’s higher-education system will confer only 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in computer science.

When members of the Gang of Eight eyed Thursday as a possible date to roll out immigration reform legislation, the gun violence bill had appeared to be stalled. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (Ky.) announced Monday he would filibuster the gun legislation.

The Senate’s focus shifted Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning as word spread that Toomey and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (D-W.Va.) had reached a deal to expand background checks, the centerpiece of President Obama’s gun control agenda.

Gun regulation dominated the discussion of the Senate Republican Conference during Wednesday’s meeting after Toomey briefed his colleagues on the background checks deal, said senators who attended. Immigration reform didn’t even come up.

At a lunch meeting of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, senators “vented” about the pressure they’ve felt on their right flank from groups such as the National Association for Gun Rights and Gun Owners of America, according to a lawmaker who attended.

The National Association for Gun Rights has aired television and radio ads in Maine accusing Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R) of trying to strip gun rights from people who seek mental health treatment. The group has also targeted Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report MORE (R-Iowa) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy Isakson'Apprentice' winner Randal Pinkett on Trump: 'No question in my mind he’s a racist' GOP senator: Trump 'owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology' Reforming veterans health care for all generations of veterans MORE (R-Ga.) in a grassroots lobbying campaign.

This story was updated at 8:17 p.m.