Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) office announced that GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mike Rounds (S.D.) are signing onto the forthcoming legislation.
That brings the total number of Republican lawmakers officially backing the bill up to seven, including Graham and GOP Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.)—who were part of the original “Gang of Six.”
“I’m very pleased that our bipartisan proposal continues to gain support among my Republican colleagues. Our hope is to bring forward a proposal that leads to a solution the president can embrace,” Graham said in a statement.
But the legislation faces an uphill climb in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has conditioned an immigration deal getting a floor vote on Trump supporting it.
“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” McConnell told reporters Wednesday. “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”
Trump has lambasted the Senate group’s bill, which is expected to be formally announced this week.
He told Reuters on Wednesday that the proposal is “horrible” on border security and “very, very weak” on reforms to the legal immigration system.
In addition to Trump’s support, any Senate bill will likely need 60 votes to end a filibuster.
If Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.)—the other members of the “Gang of Six”—can win over every member of the 49-member caucus that means they will need the support from a total of 11 GOP senators.
The uptick in support was immediately met by backlash from a coalition of GOP senators who have offered their own proposals.
“As we have said from the beginning, any successful deal also needs buy-in from the White House. Unfortunately, the ‘Gang of Six’ proposal falls short since it fails to include even basic border security reforms,” GOP Sens. James Lankford (Okla.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) said in a joint statement.
The two GOP senators added that “we still believe that we’re closer to a deal than we’ve ever been, and we are ready to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to get this done.”
The two senators have offered their own bill that included a path to citizenship, but was meant to be paired with a border security plan.
GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), David Perdue (Ga.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) said the “Gang of Six” bill “would do nothing to solve the underlying problem in our current immigration system.”
“It’s inconceivable that anyone would shut down the government over this plan. It’s time to come back to the negotiating table and focus on getting a serious solution to the DACA situation that protects all Americans and our national security,” they said.
Cotton and Perdue were part of a White House immigration meeting last week when Trump reportedly referred to several developing countries as “shitholes,” though the president and the two GOP senators have accused Durbin of misrepresenting the meeting.
And two of the four GOP senators who are signing on are also making it clear that they are open to other immigration proposals. Congressional leadership continues to hold separate negotiations.
Alexander added on Wednesday that Graham’s proposal is a “starting point for reaching consensus and will support other responsible proposals.”
Rounds echoed that, calling the Graham-Durbin proposal an “important first step.”
“While this bill is not perfect, I will continue to work on a product that includes appropriate e-verify provisions, a stronger border security system and lays the framework for more reform, including work visas. These are the provisions required for me to support the bill in final form so we can get to the next phase,” he said.
The Trump administration announced last year that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, kicking the fight to Congress.
Democrats are demanding that a short-term funding bill that needs to be passed this week to prevent a shutdown include an immigration fix.
Durbin on Wednesday appeared optimistic that every Democrat will ultimately support his legislation, despite pushback from progressives who feel like the deal goes too far.
The bill would pair a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that includes a pathway to citizenship, which the Trump administration announced it was ending last year, with a border security package, an elimination of the Diversity Visa Lottery and changes to family-based immigration.
According to a fact sheet on the forthcoming legislation, it would include more than $2.7 billion on border security and reallocate half of the diverse lottery visages to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. It would give half to individuals from underrepresented “priority countries.”
But Republicans argue that they have until March 5 to come up with a fix, and potentially longer after a court ordered the Trump administration to keep the program in place while litigation plays out.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, reiterated on Wednesday that the Graham-Durbin bill will not be the “template” for a final deal.
“The longer we keep kicking that dead horse the longer we’re … going to delay getting to a real solution,” he told reporters.
Cornyn, Durbin and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with White House chief of staff John Kelly on Wednesday. The four lawmakers are expected to meet again on Thursday.