Immigration arms race begins on Capitol Hill

The Trump administration’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is sparking a legislative arms race on Capitol Hill.

Both supporters and opponents of DACA are maneuvering for position, underscoring the difficulty lawmakers face in reaching a deal.


To get a bill to President Trump’s desk, Republican leaders will have to balance the at-times contradictory demands of Senate Democrats and conservatives in the House.

But GOP leaders are already laying down one marker, vowing that a fix for DACA must be paired with other immigration reforms.

“If we just rubber stamp a stand-alone DREAM Act, then we’re going to have another DREAM Act that we’re going to need in 10 years from now,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanUnscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden Coulter defends Paul Ryan: This is 100 percent Trump's fault The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (R-Wis.) told Fox News Radio.

The bill that Ryan was referring to is similar to DACA: It would lift the threat of deportation from people who came to the country illegally as minors.

Democrats are pushing for a stand-alone vote on the bill, but Ryan said Congress needs to address the “cause and the effect” of illegal immigration before dealing with the nearly 800,000 people enrolled in DACA.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together MORE (R-Texas), a member of Senate Republican leadership, has also ruled out a stand-alone vote on the DREAM Act.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be responsible for trying to find a deal, and at first glance it would seem to be fertile ground for bipartisanship. It was expected to hold a hearing on DACA and the country’s guest worker program on Wednesday, but the meeting was postponed with the administration focused on its response to two hurricanes. 

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business Five dead in shooting at manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (D-Ill.), both members of the Judiciary Committee, are co-sponsors of the DREAM Act.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the committee who is up for reelection in 2018, supports the legislation. And Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown MORE (R-Utah), a former chairman of the committee, authored the first version of the bill in 2001.

But those same Republicans could soon find themselves at odds with the White House.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is signaling the administration thinks funding for the wall should be included in any immigration deal. 

“I don’t think the president’s been shy about the fact that he wants a wall, and certainly something he feels is an important part of a responsible immigration package,” she told reporters.

But money for the border wall is considered a nonstarter among Democrats and some Republicans. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been tight-lipped about what he might include in immigration legislation. Still, he appeared to shoot down helping pay for Trump’s border wall. 

“I don’t think that’s realistic,” he told Iowa reporters in a recent conference call.

Spokesmen for Grassley didn’t respond to a request for comment about if they, or committee staff, have started discussions about a potential bill. 

Democrats, meanwhile, are threatening to attach the DREAM Act to other must-pass legislation. House Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), filed a discharge petition last week to try to force a vote on the DREAM Act. 

Yet while generally united on the issue, some Democrats are willing to take a harder line than others.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) says he and other House progressives are willing to shut down the government in December if they don’t get a deal to protect so-called Dreamers.

But Durbin said Senate Democrats weren’t yet willing to show their cards on their end-of-the-year strategy.

“We are not making a contingency, a quid pro quo,” he told “Pod Save America,” a podcast hosted by former Obama administration staffers. “We believe … that we’ll be in a better position to make that happen because look at what we’re going to face in December.”

Durbin added he was willing to talk to Republicans about a deal that would pair the DREAM Act with border security but said Democrats wouldn’t support wall money and he wouldn’t support targeting “sanctuary cities,” or cities that don’t comply with federal immigration law.

Still, when asked by The Hill if Democrats were willing to shut down the government to help DACA recipients, Durbin wouldn’t rule it out.

“I’m not going to say that at the moment. I’m going to tell you that this is a priority and we shouldn’t leave town this year without passing it.”

Durbin noted he and Cornyn have talked about border security as part of the broader immigration debate, though those discussions appeared to be preliminary. 

“I told Sen. Durbin I would be happy to talk to him about it when he wants to and when he’s ready,” Cornyn said, when asked if he had spoken to his Democratic counterpart about linking a DACA fix to border security.  

Cornyn introduced a border security and immigration enforcement bill earlier this year, but the legislation targets funding for sanctuary cities. Asked if he would be willing to drop the provision as part of the immigration talks, he joked: “I’ll negotiate with him but not with you.” 

Meanwhile, rank-and-file Republicans appear to be gravitating toward pairing a DACA fix with tougher border security measures. 

An exception is Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.), who is pushing for a DACA fix to be wrapped into a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill.

“That STEM — science, technology and engineering people, guest workers, a number of other provisions which makes it comprehensive. Border security, et cetera. We need to do that and so that — and make that part of it the Dreamers’ part of it,” McCain told CNN on Sunday.

But many of his GOP colleagues are wary of going big on immigration, noting such efforts have failed in the past. 

Adding another wrinkle to the debate, Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios Huawei charges escalate Trump fight with China MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) are pushing for consideration of their bill to curb legal immigration. Trump has endorsed that bill, but it faces opposition in both parties. 

The wild card in the immigration fight could end up being the president, who told reporters aboard Air Force One last week that “Chuck [Schumer] and Nancy [Pelosi] would like to see something happen, and so do I.” 

Conservatives are warning the White House against cutting a deal with Democrats on immigration. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon said it could cost Republicans their House majority.

“My fear is that with this six months down range, if we have another huge — if this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013,” Bannon said on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”