Senate hits wall on immigration

Senate hits wall on immigration
© Greg Nash

The Senate’s immigration debate is hitting a wall before it even gets started.

Democrats blocked Republicans from setting up votes on Tuesday, while GOP senators themselves outlined different approaches for how to build a compromise that could get 60 votes — the supermajority required to overcome a filibuster and clear legislation from the Senate.

Conservatives are trying to draw a hard line on the White House framework as the only game in town that President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE will sign.

“The president’s framework is not an opening bid in negotiations. It is a best and final offer,” Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures Senate rejects Trump immigration plan Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (R-Ark.) told reporters.

The proposal would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants brought into the country illegally as children in exchange for $25 billion in border security, as well as more controversial changes to legal immigration and interior enforcement.

Supporters argue it represents a significant concession from Trump, who backed deporting the roughly 11 million immigrants currently in the country illegally as part of his presidential bid.

There are doubts, however, that it could get enough support from Democrats to reach 60 votes. No Democrat has come out to support the bill, though Cotton thinks centrists could be pulled over.

And while the Trump proposal has the support of GOP leaders, the caucus is not united.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (R-Ariz.) said that while it had “informed the discussion,” senators needed to work out the endgame amongst themselves.

“I think this is a Senate product. He has his framework already out there. That’s informed the discussion, but we need to work this out ourselves,” he said.

With the floor debate largely at a standstill, rank-and-file Republicans are drafting a range of alternatives.

These include a years-long patch to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump is unwinding and broader bills that would address each of the “four pillars” agreed to during a bipartisan meeting with Trump last month.

“We’re beginning to refine whether or not it’s a two-pillar bill or a four-pillar bill, and what are the combinations that would allow it to be four pillar,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.).

Republicans are under pressure from the party’s base to take a hard stance in the negotiations, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) is stressing that a bill must be able to pass the House and win the support of Trump.

NumbersUSA is urging its members to call senators and tell them to oppose any bill that doesn’t fulfill “Trump’s promises,” including ending the State Department’s diversity visa lottery program and “chain,” or family-based, immigration. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRussian assault on 'American idea' enables Trump to take tough action Eleven lawmakers have used campaign funds to pay NRA dues: report Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers MORE (R-Mo.) said a final agreement could still emerge but questioned whether any legislation could win 60 Senate votes and also pass the House. 

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the debate develops, and I’m not sure the plan is on the table yet that’s the plan that finally passes,” he said.

A bipartisan group of roughly 20 senators, led by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine), are searching for a compromise the might be backed by centrists in both parties.

“We’re continuing to have discussions. ... I think we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet. This is a very complex issue, and you pull one thread and unravel a whole other part of the tapestry,” Collins said.

The group had largely been focused on trying to find an agreement that could serve as the starting point of the Senate’s debate, with multiple members of the group floating a narrower deal that focused on a fix for DACA and border security.

But Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsCongress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Florida shooting reopens CDC gun research debate Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March MORE (R-S.D.) said a subgroup of the coalition is working on a broader proposal that would also deal with changes to family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery.

“It’s a drafting group that we want to present to the full group,” he said, adding that there could be “several drafting groups.”

Flake is preparing two measures: a three-year DACA and border security patch and a broader measure that would provide a path to citizenship for some DACA recipients in exchange for $25 billion in border security and changes to legal immigration.

Graham and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (D-Ill.) both indicated on Tuesday that they haven’t made a final decision about whether to try to get a vote on their Gang of Six bill that has been repeatedly shot down by Trump and the White House.

Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (D-Del.) said he is planning offer his plan with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer. But Republicans predicted that bill could not get 60 votes as it’s currently written.

“I have tremendous respect for both of them, but I think people are looking for something a bit more robust,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R-Tenn.).

The division among Republicans could give leverage to Democrats, who believe they will need to put up the bulk of the votes for any immigration deal in the Senate.

“Let’s do Senate immigration math for a minute. There’s never been … a major immigration measure that’s passed the Senate without an overwhelming Democratic majority and enough Republicans,” Durbin said.

Senators have little time. McConnell wants to end the debate this week, and Trump has set a March 5 deadline, at which point DACA recipients could lose their legal status to stay in the United States.

While the courts could prevent the administration from ending the program, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is warning Trump that won’t extend the deadline.

“I think the time for talking is sort of coming to an end, and now it’s a time for voting,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas). “If there’s no deal by the end of the week that, I think, leaves the DACA recipients in some jeopardy.”