McConnell promises immigration debate if government reopens

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars Trump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday promised to take up an immigration bill protecting an estimated 800,000 "Dreamers" from deportation and allow an open amendment process if Democrats agree to reopen the government.

The Senate will vote at noon on a three-week funding resolution to end the government shutdown that began at midnight Saturday. The legislation includes an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

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Democrats have been pressing McConnell for a vote on the Dreamers legislation, and it is unclear whether his latest commitments will be enough to win them over.

With some Republicans expected to vote against the bill, nearly a dozen Democratic votes will likely be needed to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle. 

Senate Democrats and Republicans will try to negotiate an immigration compromise before the pending stopgap measure would expire on Feb. 8, if that stopgap is approved.

If they fail to reach a deal, McConnell promised he will bring an immigration bill to the floor in February.

But McConnell said his promise would only be good if Democrats agree to reopen the government.

“Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on Feb. 8, so long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief,” McConnell said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by President Obama that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE is winding down.

The GOP leader pledged “this immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset and an amendment process that is fair to all sides,” he said.

Behind the scenes, a group of centrist Democrats and Republicans have been trying to work out a deal on immigration.

Democrats leaving a meeting of moderate senators on Monday morning said they are still discussing how to get a firmer commitment for a vote to protect young immigrants in the country illegally.

"We just need a commitment on that that's firm, that we know we're going to be on it, the question is how firm the commitment [will be]" said Sen Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems grapple with race, gender and privilege MORE (D-Va.) leaving the meeting in Sen Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE's (R-Maine) office.

Sen Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (D-Minn.) said they need a "real commitment" to bring up an immigration bill.

No Democrats said leaving the meeting that they are changing their votes. Though when asked how he would vote at a noon vote on Monday, Sen Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico MORE (D-Fla.) said he thought that vote could be postponed if negotiators need more time.

Republicans who attended the meeting said McConnell should have been more specific with his promise to ensure Democrats vote "yes."

"I do think it would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger," Collins told reporters.

But she also gave McConnell credit, saying the GOP leader "had moved to accommodate the concerns that have been raised" about needing a commitment on immigration.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Graham expects 'thorough' briefing on Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.) predicted McConnell will make a "firmer commitment when it seems like it will matter."

"I think if Mitch were a little firmer as to 'we are going to move to immigration. ... There will be a process where everybody will be heard,'" he said.

Graham suggested that Democrats go to Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar MORE (D-N.Y.) and tell him that they will vote for the continuing resolution if McConnell will use more specific language.

McConnell has said he intends to take up an immigration bill if a larger deal can't be reached by Feb. 8.

But Democrats are quick to point to previous commitments to GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (Ariz.) and Collins that did not come to fruition.

Flake, asked how Democrats could trust McConnell, noting that the GOP leader was making a "pretty high-profile promise."

Republican leaders, however, said Democrats have no reason to be distrustful.

"I think they ought to believe him because he's a trustworthy, honorable person. And I realize there's ... a trust deficit up here generally. But I think one of the first steps to regaining that trust is for the leader to make that commitment and follow through on it," said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas).

Cornyn said Democrats would not get a more ironclad promise.

"No, I think that's all they're going to get," he said.

Peter Sullivan and Jordain Carney contributed.

Updated at 10:59 a.m.