Partisan lines harden in Senate over immigration reform bill

Partisan lines are hardening over the Senate’s immigration reform bill, downgrading hopes a 70-plus majority of senators will back it in an up-or-down vote next week.

The bill seems likely to pass the Senate, particularly after a Congressional Budget Office score on Tuesday found it would reduce deficits by $700 billion over the next two decades.

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Yet hopes the bill could win 70 or 80 votes are fading along with the chances that a key amendment sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynJuan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP Trump wall faces skepticism on border No Congress members along Mexico border support funding Trump's wall MORE (R-Texas) will be approved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) on Tuesday said he opposes including any triggers in the bill that would have to be pulled before the path to citizenship is granted to millions of immigrants.

That likely dooms Cornyn’s measure, which could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday. It would make permanent legal residency for illegal immigrants contingent on reaching ambitious border-security benchmarks.

In another blow to the amendment on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRussian interference looms over European elections Graham: I’m ‘all in’ for Trump Graham: US on a collision course with North Korea MORE (S.C.), a Republican member of the Gang of Eight, said he would vote against it.

If Cornyn’s amendment isn’t added, he and a number of other Republicans are unlikely to support the bill.

“Absent passage of that sort of enforcement mechanism, I can’t support this bill, and there will be many Republicans who cannot and many others who believe that it’s just another hollow promise,” Cornyn said Tuesday.

Losing Cornyn’s vote will imperil the support of other Republican leaders. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP Judd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight MORE (Ky.) last week called Cornyn’s “the key amendment.”

Democrats have signaled in recent days that they’ll be satisfied if they don’t get a supermajority of more than 70 votes, a goal of Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDems: Trump’s first 100 days full of broken promises to middle class Priebus: I believe the government will stay open So what if banks push fancy cards? Give consumers the steak they want MORE (N.Y.), who believes it would give House Republicans political cover to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Reid has told Schumer not to worry about the political calculus in the House.

“I have talked to my four Democrats [on] the Gang of Eight and I have told them, ‘Concentrate on the Senate. Don’t at this stage worry about what’s going to happen in the House,’ ” Reid told reporters Tuesday.

It will now be more difficult to reach the 70-vote mark, even though Graham predicted in an NBC interview Sunday that the Senate legislation will pass with “plus 70 votes.”

Democrats can count on about 10 Republicans to vote for the bill, but that gets them to 64 votes for final passage.

The Republicans considered most likely to vote yes are the four members of the Senate Gang of Eight —Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (Fla.), John McCainJohn McCainWeek ahead: Pentagon funding in the balance as deadline looms Kasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Five fights for Trump’s first year MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeTrump wall faces skepticism on border No Congress members along Mexico border support funding Trump's wall Obama-linked group launches ads targeting Republicans on immigration MORE (Ariz.) and Graham — and Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Republican Sen. Collins considering run for Maine governor in 2018 Alaska senators push bill to allow Arctic drilling MORE (Alaska), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteHow Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch Gorsuch sherpa: Dems giving GOP ‘no choice’ on nuclear option MORE (N.H.), Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (Ill.), Dean HellerDean HellerWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Obama-linked group launches ads targeting Republicans on immigration Nevada Dem rep considering Senate run against Heller MORE (Nev.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsCollins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare Mexico: Recent deportations 'a violation' of US immigration rules White House denies misleading public in aircraft carrier mix-up MORE (Maine). 

Reid warned that any amendments that put obstacles in the pathway to citizenship would threaten Democratic support.

“I’m not in favor of a trigger,” he said. “If there needs [to be] more done in the eyes of some senators on border security, put those proposals forward.

“But we have to be really, really careful with triggers, because there are a lot of important things in this legislation,” he added. “The pathway to citizenship is really important.”

The Senate voted Tuesday, largely along party lines, to reject a trigger proposed by Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneSeven major players in Trump's trillion infrastructure push Trump’s great tech opportunity is in spectrum sharing Norquist warns GOP: Don’t link taxes, infrastructure MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking member of the Republican leadership.

The Senate voted 39-54 to defeat Thune’s proposal to require the construction of 350 miles of new fence along the southern border before granting provisional legal status to immigrants.

Members of the Gang of Eight had been negotiating with Cornyn about changing his amendment. After Cornyn told Republican colleagues at a closed-door meeting last week that he was open to modifying it, some of them felt convinced he would ultimately vote for the bill, paving the way for it to pass with more than 70 votes.

However, no deal on the Cornyn amendment was in sight Tuesday afternoon.

“The one part that’s non-negotiable is the part that actually enforces the standard set out in the Gang of Eight bill,” Cornyn said.

The Senate bill sets the goals of 100 percent border-monitoring capabilities and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the southern border but does not require them before granting permanent legal residency. Cornyn would make those goals mandatory.

Democratic members of the Gang say this demand is unacceptable.

Durbin has called the apprehension rate trigger “totally unacceptable.”

“What would not be acceptable to us is a sense that the pathway to citizenship is somehow contingent or not real,” said Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetDems knock Trump on Earth Day Dem pushed plan for both sides to admit to abusing Senate rules: report Senators aim to extend federal conservation fund MORE (Colo.), another Democratic member of the Gang.

The stalemate over a border-security trigger for the pathway to citizenship leaves it to other Republicans to negotiate a deal. Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Ringing the alarm in Congress: 20 million lives at risk due to famine Senators want more efficient way to get food aid to Africa MORE (R-Tenn.) and John HoevenJohn HoevenHeitkamp raises .6 million for reelection bid: report Combating opioid epidemic, repealing ObamaCare will hurt the cause Senate panel considers how to fund Trump’s T infrastructure package MORE (R-N.D.) are working on an amendment to strengthen border security, and so is Rubio.

Negotiators say they were working diligently but had nothing to report as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re working away. We’re working away,” McCain said. “Constant meetings, constant conversations.”

“I think we should have had something yesterday,” he said.