Graham threat to bust panel rules roils Senate tensions

Tensions are boiling over in the Senate over Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE’s (R-S.C.) threat to ram through legislation to overhaul U.S. asylum laws, including changing the number of days minors crossing the border can be held in custody. 

The fight is the latest high-profile battle on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Graham says he’s ready to waive panel rules to force a committee vote Thursday on his legislation.

Graham’s bill touches on the detentions of families who cross the border, as well as their possible separations, one of the most sensitive issues in politics right now. 

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It would increase the number of days a family can be held together from 20 days to 100 days, preventing family separations but lengthening the period children could be held in custody with their parents. 

It would also require asylum claims be filed in Mexico or a home country instead of the United States, provide funding for 500 new immigration judges and allow unaccompanied minors from Central America to be sent back to their home countries, similar to unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico.

Graham’s threat to forego rules that require at least two members of the minority party to be present to vote on legislation and speed up consideration of the bill has sparked fierce pushback from Democrats, who believe Republicans have nixed Senate rules when it benefits them politically. 

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat and a member of the committee, warned it could have far reaching implications for how the committee operates going forward. 

“It’s a dramatic departure from the way the committee has been managed in the past. It has been a very bipartisan committee with few exceptions and to force through a controversial measure on immigration in this manner doesn’t help us on the agenda we face,” Durbin told The Hill. 

But Republicans say Democrats are forcing Graham’s hand by essentially boycotting committee work to stop his legislation.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (R-Texas) argued that Graham didn’t have a choice if Democrats aren’t “going to participate.” 

“I think this has all just been a big waiting game and obviously the conditions along the border are not getting any better,” he said. 

He added that if Democrats weren’t going to work with them on asylum legislation, “then I think they need to be held accountable somehow.” 

Every Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat except for ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (D-Calif.) skipped a committee meeting scheduled for last Thursday, when Graham’s bill was on the agenda. 

“I've been informed by my Democratic colleagues that Sen. Feinstein will be the only Democrat here. Under our rules we're not supposed to do business unless we get seven from the majority and two from the minority," Graham said during the meeting. 

Graham then warned that he would change the panel’s rules the following week to ensure his legislation was considered.

“So what we'll do is we'll take this up Thursday, next week, I will make a motion to change the rules ... and we're going to vote,” he said. 

Democrats are outraged over the threat.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he was “concerned about changing the rules to achieve a favored outcome.” 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-R.I.), another member of the panel, called Graham’s threat a “terrible idea.” 

But GOP senators appear ready to support their chairman.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said he would back waiving the committee’s rules if Democrats skip the Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday. 

“Our Democratic colleagues to prevent the bill from being heard didn’t show [last week], and if they persist in doing that I will support a change,” he said. “We need to do something, right now we’re just sitting here staring at the problem. Reality calls and we promptly hang up.” 

Asked if he was concerned the Judiciary Committee was growing more partisan, he added, “Yes, but I don’t know what to do about it. We live in partisan times.” 

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA MORE (R-N.C.) also criticized Democrats, stating that the panel’s bipartisan traditions “got broken when they failed to come to the table.” 

“They don’t show, we got work to do,” Tillis added about waiving the committee’s rules. 

The partisan divide on Judiciary has been growing and growing since the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court to hear landmark abortion case this week Roe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks MORE. Since then, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and William BarrBill BarrMichael Cohen officially released from prison sentence Incoming NAACP Legal Defense Fund president sees progress against 'revitalized mission to advance white supremacy' Fox's Bartiromo called Bill Barr 'screaming' about election fraud: book MORE’s attorney general nomination have only stoked tensions.

Immigration, in particular, has emerged as a lightning rod. Graham’s bill was scheduled to be taken up in the Judiciary Committee last month but was yanked off the agenda after he and Durbin met with White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report Watchdog finds no money has flowed out of agency tasked by Trump admin to fight pandemic MORE, President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE's son-in-law. Those talks have since unraveled amid deep partisan divisions. 

Durbin told The Hill that he believes Graham is getting urged by GOP leadership to get the asylum bill through committee this week, even though it can’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate as currently written. 

“I think he’s receiving instructions and maybe even pressure from the leadership to move this bill,” Durbin said. “I think that Senator McConnell will want to be able to point to it on the calendar.”

Feinstein sent Graham a letter late last week warning that waiving the rules would set “an unfortunate precedent” and urging him to delay his asylum bill until after the recess. 

“If the Majority party can simply ignore Committee rules when they become inconvenient and proceed in any manner it so chooses, then the Committee cannot function,” she said. 

Graham says Democrats have tied his hands. 

“I’ve tried for about six weeks to find a way forward, and I don’t see a way forward, so we’ll just mark up the bill. A lot of people wanted to bring the bill directly to the floor I would rather go through the committee process,” Graham told The Hill.