McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Senate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays Political figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer MORE (R-Ky.) is pledging to begin a free-flowing immigration debate next week, saying any proposal that gets 60 votes could get through the upper chamber.

McConnell, known for keeping his cards close to the vest, said Tuesday that the impending fiscal showdown will mark a “rare occasion” for an open debate and an “opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom.” 

“I’m going to structure in such a way that’s fair to everyone. ... Whoever gets to 60 wins,” he said during a press conference. 

When a reporter noted there are myriad proposals being floated, McConnell laughed before stressing that he doesn’t have a “secret plan.” 

“I can’t be specific because there’s no secret plan here to try to push this in any direction. The Senate is going to work its will, and I hope that we will end up passing something,” he said. 

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The move is putting the chamber on the precipice of a heated floor fight with senators largely in the dark about what the endgame will be, or even how the GOP leader plans to start the debate. 

 

“I know everybody wants an advantage, but he’s been pretty scrupulous about not giving anybody any ideas about where he’s starting,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican. 

Asked what should be in the Senate’s base bill, he added: “That’s the $64,000 question everybody wants to know, and Sen. McConnell hasn’t told us.” 

Last month, McConnell promised a debate on immigration if the government shutdown ended. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDonald Trump Jr. headlines Montana Republican convention Montana's environmental lobby teams with governor to kill 600 jobs Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points MORE (N.Y.), subsequently agreed to vote to open the government after a three-day shutdown.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate panel advances three spending bills GOP senators call for probe of federal grants on climate change Hillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger MORE (R-Okla.), who has been involved in the immigration negotiations, also said on Tuesday that he does not know because “McConnell is the only one who can say what the base bill is going to be.” 

What will be included in the Senate’s bill has come under growing scrutiny as several groups have failed to produce an agreement that could reach 60 votes — the number needed to overcome a filibuster. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE shot down a new proposal from Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Trump mocks McCain at Nevada rally Don’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (D-Del.) that would have included a path to citizenship for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children but did not provide funding for the president’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

Cornyn, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington Senate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration MORE (D-Ill.), Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse panel approves belated 2019 budget Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges —Dems, health groups demand immigrant children be quickly reunited with families Dems, health groups demand immigrant children be quickly reunited with families MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — House passes opioid bill | Planned Parenthood sues over teen pregnancy program | Azar to face Senate next week House still plans immigration vote next week despite Trump's tweet House passes bipartisan bill to fight opioid crisis MORE (R-Calif.) have been talking for weeks with little to show for it. The group is made up of parties’ second-ranking lawmakers in each chamber.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re making a lot of progress,” Hoyer said. 

McConnell had hoped the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations would be able to produce a deal that could win over Senate Democrats, House Republicans and Trump. 

However, such an agreement seems unlikely, as both sides appeared to move further apart amid heated rhetoric and deep policy and political divisions in a midterm election year. Many GOP lawmakers are wary of taking up an immigration bill unless they know it’s backed by Trump.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanLaura Ingraham: George Will is ‘sad and petty’ for urging votes against GOP Seth Rogen: I told Paul Ryan I hate his policies in front of his kids George Will: Vote against GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) pointed out that talks among leadership are continuing but stressed he will not bring up a bill that the president doesn’t back. 

“We’re not going to bring immigration legislation through that the president doesn’t support. We’re working on something here in the House. We’re working on bipartisan negotiations. It’s going to be a bill that we support and the president supports,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday. 

Congress has until March 5 to pass a fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to work and go to school. 

If they fail to get a deal, roughly 700,000 immigrants will eventually be at risk of being deported because the Trump administration decided last year to nix the program. 

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE said Tuesday that Trump will likely not extend the deadline because the administration is “not so sure” he has that legal authority. 

He also noted, according to The Washington Post, that Trump’s framework would roughly double the number of immigrants currently getting legal protections. 

“The difference between 690 [thousand] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” he said. 

What ends up in the Senate’s base bill is entirely up to McConnell, who has been careful not to tip his hand. 

But the GOP leader is under an intense lobbying campaign from both sides, with the White House — including Kelly, legislative affairs director Marc Short and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump wanted to use executive order to pass total immigration reform: report Sarah Sanders response to being kicked out of restaurant: Owner's actions 'say far more about her than about me' Reviewers pounce on online report Virginia restaurant refused to serve Sarah Sanders MORE — making a pitch this week. 

“Look at our framework,” Short told reporters after the meeting. “I think we’d advocate our framework to be the base bill.”

The Trump proposal gave a path to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million immigrants in exchange for tens of billions in border wall funding and changes to legal immigration. 

A group of GOP senators, including Cornyn and Lankford, are working to turn the framework into legislation ahead of next week’s debate. 

“We’re not negotiating against ourselves and we’re also determined not to just go through a futile effort here — in other words, to try to pass something that the president won’t sign,” Cornyn said. 

Trump’s proposal has been panned by Democrats, with Durbin predicting on Tuesday that it can’t get 60 votes because no Democrat will support it. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Trump, senators headed for clash on cyber policy MORE (R-S.D.) added that using Trump’s framework as a starting point would likely be viewed as too broad and not bipartisan. 

“That can’t be the beginning because then the Democrats will say that’s not neutral,” he said. 

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally takes hard line on immigration in Arizona primary Flake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt Skyrocketing insulin prices provoke new outrage MORE (R-Maine), Rounds and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Manchin up 9 points over GOP challenger in W.Va. Senate race MORE (D-W.Va.) floated that McConnell could bring up an unrelated “shell” bill as the Senate’s starting point. That way, the Senate would essentially be starting from scratch. 

Rounds is part of a group of senators who have been advocating a narrow start to the Senate’s debate that would include a fix for DACA and border security, but leave more controversial fights — such as a pathway to citizenship, the diversity visa lottery and family-based immigration, which Republicans refer to as “chain migration” — to be sorted out on the Senate floor. 

Yet, the White House and some GOP senators have rejected the idea, even as a starting point, claiming it can’t pass the House or garner the support of Trump. The stalemate and the looming deadline is sparking private discussion among senators about potentially punting on the immigration fight by passing a yearlong DACA and border security patch. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (R-S.C.) said it was the “fallback position … but that’s most likely where we’re going to go.” 

He also signaled that the McCain–Coons proposal is unlikely to pass because it includes a path to citizenship, which is considered a non-starter for some Republicans.

“There’s too many moving parts,” he said. “[And] when you start talking about chain migration and doing away [with] the diversity lottery you run into a wall.”