Republican leaders look for escape plan on immigration

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are boxed in on immigration and searching for a way out.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLiz Cheney faces a big decision on her future NBC's Kelly O'Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network Boehner: 'I wouldn't bother' with primary challenge to Trump if I were Kasich MORE (R-Ohio) are struggling to find a way to fund the Department of Homeland Security while meeting conservative demands to unwind President Obama’s executive actions giving legal status to millions of immigrants who would otherwise face deportation.

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Congress is only scheduled to be in session for three weeks in February, giving lawmakers little time to craft a funding bill that would prevent an embarrassing shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Feb. 28.

On Tuesday, the two began wiggling their way out of the tight spot:

• To please conservative critics, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLiz Cheney faces a big decision on her future NBC's Kelly O'Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network Boehner: 'I wouldn't bother' with primary challenge to Trump if I were Kasich MORE announced at a morning GOP conference meeting that the House would sue the administration for giving de facto legal status to millions of illegal immigrants without congressional approval.

• A day after pulling a House border security bill drafted by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) from a planned floor vote, GOP leaders said McCaul and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) would work together to create a new, tougher border bill.

• McConnell announced at an afternoon press conference that the Senate will vote next week on a House-passed bill funding the DHS but reversing Obama’s executive actions.

• Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Top Republican says Senate unlikely to vote on any election security bills San Francisco becomes first city to ban facial recognition technology MORE (Mo.), the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, pledged at a press conference that Senate Republicans would do “everything we can to persuade at least half a dozen Democrats that they should join us,” adding, “you don’t know how these legislative battles go if you don’t have them, and we intend to have this one.”

McConnell and Boehner have a ways to go before they are in the clear, however.

And a familiar endgame — in which Boehner is forced to move legislation through the House with broad Democratic support — could be inevitable.

The House bill is destined for failure in the Senate, where GOP leaders lack the votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

Almost the entire Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter Tuesday stating, “the House bill cannot pass the Senate” and urging McConnell to move a clean bill.

 A lawsuit is likely to take years to wend its way through the courts, giving little satisfaction to conservative voters who want to see immediate action.

Conservatives have been divided over the McCaul bill, and it is unclear whether GOP leaders can make it more palatable by merging it with Goodlatte’s legislation, which deals with asylum claims and other issues related to enforcement.

McConnell on Tuesday declined to reveal whether he would allow Democrats to offer amendments to the House bill when it is considered in the Senate or how he would proceed if Democrats filibuster it.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (R-Texas) said the House bill would come directly to the Senate floor but acknowledged leaders have yet to firm up a plan should it fail.

“I would say all options are on the table. There hasn’t been any decision made, so we’re considering that full range of options,” he said.

Some of the options were discussed at a Republican Steering Committee meeting last week.

The GOP could strip the House provision on Obama’s executive actions and instead add language strengthening border security or expanding H-1B visas for high-skilled workers.

One Senate GOP source said the upper chamber could add whichever version of the McCaul-Goodlatte border security and interior enforcement bill passes the House.

Allowing Obama’s executive actions to stand and adding components of immigration reform favored by Republicans might persuade a group of centrist Democrats to join with the majority of the Senate GOP conference to pass an alternative.

But it would likely face a party-line vote and a mass of conservative defections in the House.

And winning over Democratic senators would not be easy; Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults Infrastructure conversation must include America's public lands and waters MORE (N.Y.) and other members of the Senate Democratic leadership would fight efforts to pass piecemeal immigration reform on an appropriations bill.

Senate Republicans could try to sweeten the deal by adding other elements of immigration reform favored by Democrats to the Homeland Security funding bill.

That might build a bipartisan majority in both chambers but would likely prompt a harsh reaction from the GOP base.

Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos contributed.

This story was updated at 2:27 p.m. Thursday.