Senate seeks to whittle down Trump border demands

Senate seeks to whittle down Trump border demands
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Senators are moving away from the White House's long list of demands as they try to negotiate an agreement on a key Obama-era immigration program.

Trump decided to nix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and released a seven-page list of immigration “principles” outlining what the administration wants as they jockey for leverage ahead of negotiations with Capitol Hill.

But senators — while acknowledging they support the “merit-based” immigration reform favored by Trump and conservatives — have appeared cool to the wide-raging plan advocated by the White House.

They warn that an overly broad package would sink the chances of an agreement on undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, commonly referred to as "Dreamers."

“I do support merit-based immigration reform but what I don’t want to do is get back into the morasses of comprehensive immigration reform. That’s why I think the … simpler and more easily accomplished goal would be to marry up some fix for the DACA beneficiaries with a border security and enforcement bill,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThree pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Texas), said in response to a question about the administration’s plan.

Cornyn, the No. 2 GOP senator and a member of the Judiciary Committee, added that lawmakers could circle back to additional immigration legislation but “we’ve tried to do immigration reform as one big comprehensive bill and we’ve failed every time.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick Republicans set sights on FBI chief as Russia probe investigations ramp up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE (R-S.C.) added a DACA fix and border security would be a “good marriage.” 

“So I think there’s a deal there that we don’t do comprehensive immigration reform, but you make a down payment on dealing with the 11 million by starting with the 'Dreamers.' You make a down payment on fixing the causes of illegal immigration by plugging some loopholes,” Graham said.

He floated that lawmakers could do a “round two” of immigration legislation that would tackle immigration visas, e-verify and dealing with parents of "Dreamers” and agricultural workers.

Congress has until early next year to come up with a DACA deal. If they fail, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants currently covered by DACA would be at risk of being deported.

The White House’s list includes making it harder for unaccompanied minors to enter the country illegally, funding for the president's border wall and cuts to legal immigration.

They also want to cut off funding for cities that don’t comply with federal immigration laws, decrease the number of green cards awarded annually and beef up border security and enforcement.

But those asks have largely been met with silence from a majority of Senate Republicans, who are offering their own plans aimed at bolstering security while allowing DACA recipients to legally remain in the country.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSarah Palin offers Harris advice: 'Don't get muzzled' McSally gaining ground on Kelly in Arizona Senate race: poll Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), asked about his thoughts on the administration’s demands, acknowledged he hadn’t read them.

“I didn’t pay attention to them. There’s no reason for me to pay attention to them,” he said.

Pressed on why, McCain, who helped craft the 2013 immigration bill, added, “because it’s non-starters.”

Senate Republicans are walking a political tightrope as they try to strike an agreement on DACA.

To get a deal through the Senate they’ll need to win 60 votes, including from Democrats who are under pressure from activists and their progressive base to hold a firm line. That could make it tougher to get a deal on border security provisions that would allow conservatives to back the bill.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (R-Wis.) seemed receptive during a closed-door meeting with the Republican Study Committee to including a DACA fix in the end-of-the-year funding deal, according to The Huffington Post. The report sparked near-immediate backlash from conservatives, who want the spending bill free from such legislation.

Ryan stressed that he hasn’t settled on a specific plan for DACA.

“We are having lots of discussions about how to do it, and the timing is just something that is open to debate,” he said in a Reuters video interview.

In the Senate, negotiations are being lead by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks GOP Finance chairman raises concerns about Trump push to make payroll-tax deferral permanent MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has convened a working group of senators to try to come up with an agreement.

Spokesmen for Grassley didn’t respond to a request for comment about details of the talks. But the GOP senator has repeatedly noted that he doesn’t think funding for a border wall needs to be part of the deal.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate MORE (D-Ill.) and Graham, who have previously joined up on immigration legislation, are also negotiating on a potential agreement.

“We’re trying to see if there’s a path in the Senate where we might be able to achieve the DREAM Act and border security in the right way,” Durbin said.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, similar to DACA, would allow undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to go to school and work without fear of being deported.

Graham, asked about his talks with Durbin, noted that he has also been talking with the White House.

“I sort of know what they want. And we’ll see. What they’re telling me they want, which will remain between me and them, is pretty reasonable. We’ll see if we can get there,” he said.

Asked if it overlapped with the seven-page list of priorities, Graham added that “it’s within my view reasonable, and a small list not a long list.”

Immigration activists give more credibility to Senate efforts because of internal strife among House Republicans, but warn that talks could be easily derailed.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration America’s Voice, said Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire MORE (R-N.C.) will be a player in the talks.

Tillis and Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Ballooning Fed balance sheet sparks GOP concerns  MORE (R-Okla.), who are both taking part in Grassley's talks, have pitched a “conservative DREAM Act” that would provide a roughly 15-year path to citizenship.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.) has also introduced a bill, which would pair a DACA fix with tougher border security and enforcement measures to crack down on gang members

The flurry of activity on Capitol Hill comes as both sides have publicly dug in after a tentative immigration deal between Democrats and President Trump unraveled.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thought they had reached an agreement with Trump that would pair a DACA fix with border security, but not funding for the border wall.

Schumer recently acknowledged that getting an agreement with the White House was harder after they released their immigration principles, calling it a “list of horribles.”

And Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE (D-Calif.), a possible White House candidate in 2020, is pledging that she won’t support the December funding deal without a clear path forward on DACA.

“I will not vote for an end-of-year spending bill until we are clear about what we are going to do to protect and take care of our DACA young people in this country,” Harris said.

Trump, meanwhile, says he would “love” a DACA deal but wants wall funding — considered a non-starter for Democrats and some Republicans.

“We're looking at DACA,” Trump told reporters this week. “We'll see what happens. I'd love to do a DACA deal. We have to get something very substantial for it. Including the wall, including security, including a strong border.”