McConnell promises immigration debate if government reopens

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans 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 TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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 KaineA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup MORE (D-Va.) leaving the meeting in Sen Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE's (R-Maine) office.

Sen Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill 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 NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups 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 GrahamGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week 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 SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges 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.