More than 30 senators join push for immigration deal

More than 30 senators join push for immigration deal
© Greg Nash

More than 30 senators — about a third of the entire Senate — met late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the outlines of an immigration deal before a March 5 deadline for hundreds of thousands of immigrants facing deportation.

The senators huddled shortly before President TrumpDonald John TrumpTulsi Gabbard: Shutdown 'negotiations shouldn't be done on television' Homeland Security Committee chairman: 'I would not rule out a wall in certain instances' Thousands sign Catholic high school petition after students harass Native American man MORE announced he would be willing to create a 10- to 12-year-long path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients in exchange for $25 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The White House announced it would unveil a more detailed framework for immigration reform on Monday.

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Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBaldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Trump blasts Pelosi for wanting to leave country during shutdown MORE (N.Y.) told Trump in a one-on-one meeting Friday that he would be willing to put $25 billion for the border wall “on the table” for negotiation.

But Schumer later rescinded the offer after Trump refused to negotiate with him during a government shutdown triggered by a fight over immigration.

That put negotiations in limbo until senators met Wednesday to put the talks back on track.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Maine) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal Dems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell MORE (R-S.C.) hosted Wednesday’s session, which was so large that it was held in the Senate Armed Services Committee room in the Russell Building. 

Collins has seen her influence grow since her party lost the Alabama Senate seat in December.

Other Republicans who attended included Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (Texas), Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown MORE (Tenn.), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate GOP blocks bill to reopen Homeland Security What the government shutdown means for our nation’s cybersecurity MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (N.C.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Kan.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Senators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP senators would support postponing State of the Union MORE (S.D.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying MORE (Ga.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Kaine to force Senate to hold rare Saturday session amid shutdown MORE (Alaska).

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE (R-Fla.), who was a driving force behind the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, also attended.

The majority of participants were Democrats, including many centrists.

“There were over 35 RSVPs. I think we had more,” Graham told reporters afterward. “I’ve never seen that many senators in a room on immigration since I’ve been here.”

A senior Democratic aide said the large number of Republican participants was a good sign of getting an immigration bill through the Senate next month.

“It shows there’s a lot of interest on their side in getting a deal done,” said the aide. 

Participants said the purpose of the meeting was to establish a process for moving immigration legislation in the next few weeks.

“We didn’t really talk about specific provisions but more about the process,” Cornyn told reporters.

“It generally was a very positive and constructive meeting,” said Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Sunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown MORE (Del.). “We’ve got to get narrowing terms and define what it is what we can all agree on."

“This was a hopeful initial conversation, not a line-drawing exercise,” he added.

At the same time, there’s growing skepticism that a dozen Republican moderates will be able to persuade the rest of the Senate Republican Conference to back the effort.

One GOP aide called the meeting “inconsequential.”

And even lawmakers at the center of the immigration talks are beginning to talk about a two- or three-year “patch” or “extension” to keep DACA program recipients protected from deportation but without a long-term solution or path to citizenship.

House Republicans are talking about pushing a conservative immigration plan sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end Murkowski to reintroduce bill to help abused Native American women FBI hits GOP chairman over push to clear sensitive transcripts by Christmas Eve MORE (R-Va.) that Democrats are already dismissing out of hand.

It would end chain migration or family reunification, the diversity visa program and crack down on employers who hire immigrants who are not legally permitted to work in the country by requiring them to use the E-Verify system. 

Several key players did not attend, such as Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ark.), who has emerged as an influential voice representing conservatives.

Cotton helped persuade President Trump two weeks ago to oppose a bipartisan immigration bill that had been negotiated by Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinBlagojevich's wife 'speechless' that officer's sentence less than half of husband's Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal MORE (Ill.) and Graham in recent weeks.

Sen. David Perdue (D-Ga.), who also has been involved in immigration talks, did not attend either.

An aide to Perdue said he had another meeting.

Trump rescinded the DACA program in September, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children at risk for deportation.

He gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a solution. 

The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to give a broad swath of the Senate a forum in which to exchange ideas in hopes of coming up with a proposal that can win 60 votes — the required number — before the March deadline.

Cornyn and Durbin, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary immigration subcommittee, will vet the proposals before crafting a bill intended for the Senate floor.

“Sen. Durbin and I are tasked with the job of being the sort of clearinghouse for ideas so we can build from the bottom up a plan that hopefully can get enough support that we can get passed. But will also have to get the president’s support eventually because without his support I don’t think it will pass the House of Representatives,” Cornyn told reporters earlier in the day.

Cornyn said Democrats must agree to a multiyear plan to fund the border wall if they want a multiyear deal to protect DACA recipients from deportation.

Durbin said negotiators have yet to set a schedule.

“I’m going to sit down with Sen. Cornyn to establish how we start receiving suggestions and ideas from our colleagues. There’s an open invitation for them to join us in this and there are a lot of ideas,” he said.

The preliminary plan is to bring a bill straight to the Senate floor instead of going through the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration and crafted the comprehensive reform bill that passed the chamber in 2013.

“My assumption is this would not go through the Judiciary Committee. There would be a bill that would be agreed to on a bipartisan basis that would come to the floor,” Cornyn said.

Collins told reporters that different groups are talking among themselves to restart the immigration talks that stalled during a three-day government shutdown earlier in the week.

“Today is an opportunity to discuss a path forward and how we proceed to get to ... a variety of bills that can be considered on the Senate floor," she said. 

Collins and centrist Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (W.Va.) will host another round of bipartisan immigration meetings Thursday.

Senators who attended Wednesday’s meeting expressed optimism about the prospect of passing a bill through the upper chamber.