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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling 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 GrahamOcasio-Cortez: By Lindsey Graham's 1999 standard for Clinton, Trump should be impeached Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe 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 McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Arizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat Michelle Obama reflects on 'refreshing' tradition of sharing candy with George W. Bush 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Missing: Fiscal sanity in Washington On The Money: Latest on border wall fight | Dems prep for long shutdown | Trump finds himself isolated | Stocks sink ahead of Fed meeting, funding deadline | Trump offers new round of farm aid 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 GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda 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 DurbinVeteran industry lobbyist to leave American Petroleum Institute Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill 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 TillisSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform MORE (R-N.C.) will be a player in the talks.

Tillis and Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Officials warn of threat from Chinese spying | China blamed for Marriott hack | Trump open to intervening in Huawei case | FCC mulls ending merger ban on 'Big Four' networks | California floats tax on texts Bipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says 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 FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question 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 HarrisDem pollster says it's 'misstated wisdom' to assume competitive primaries damage presidential nominees Kamala Harris top 2020 choice in poll of women of color Warren unveils bill to lower drug prices by letting government manufacture them 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.”