GOP leader: Congress may settle for pared-down immigration deal

GOP leader: Congress may settle for pared-down immigration deal
© Greg Nash

WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. — Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds Senators push bipartisan bill to crack down on robocalls McConnell, Flake clash over protecting Mueller probe MORE (S.D.) says that congressional negotiators may settle on a slimmed-down immigration deal that leaves aside some of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' MORE’s priorities.

Thune said Congress may wind up passing a bill to protect illegal immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation in exchange for more money for border security.

Under this scenario, Trump’s demand that Congress limit immigration preferences for nonnuclear family members and end the diversity visa lottery program would be set aside for a later debate.

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“If we can solve and DACA and border security, that may be the best we can hope for,” Thune said, referring to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump rescinded in September, putting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at risk for deportation.

He clarified that he was speaking for himself instead of the entire Senate GOP conference.

Thune’s statement gives some support a fallback proposal that Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe case for bipartisan solutions GOP lawmakers condemn attempted attacks on Democrats Trump takes steps to punish Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Ohio) has floated privately to colleagues in recent days.

Portman has suggested passing a law to codify Obama’s 2012 executive order establishing DACA — which stopped short of giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship — in exchange for beefing up border security.

Thune, however, noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-Ky.) has promised to bring an immigration bill to the floor after Feb. 8 under an open amendment process.

Congress has a March 5 deadline for finding a way to help DACA recipients, popularly known as "Dreamers."

“We agree with the president that we’ve got to deal with the issue of DACA. The question is, is it the much bigger, broader debate about immigration, which encompasses the other issues that have been attendant to that debate for a long time?” Thune said.

McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' MORE (N.Y.) discussed the outlines of the upcoming immigration debate before Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Thune said.

Thune told reporters that it does not appear leaders will reach an immigration deal by Feb. 8, when government funding is due to expire.

But Democrats are not expected to reject another short-term spending measure, forcing a shutdown, because McConnell has promised an open immigration debate.

Trump has insisted on Congress passing a four-point immigration proposal that gives Dreamers a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship, improves border security, limits family-based visas and ends the diversity visa lottery.

But Trump’s rhetoric at Tuesday’s State of the Union address irritated many Democrats, some of whom booed and hissed at his characterization of how family-based immigration works. Trump said it allowed immigrants to bring in an unlimited number of family members, which is not correct.

Schumer at a meeting with Democratic colleagues before the State of the Union urged his caucus to resist the four-point plan and instead rally behind a one-for-one trade of a DACA fix in exchange for stronger border security.

Thune praised Trump’s plan as a “good-faith offer” but argued that Democrats are opposed to it.

“My view is that ultimately a fallback position that can pass the House, the Senate and get signed would be DACA and border security, some sort of agreement between those two,” he said.

His comments Thursday indicate that some Senate Republicans, at least, would be willing to accept a more limited deal.

Other Republicans, such as Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordHouse GOP to force members to give up leadership positions if running for higher office The Hill's Morning Report — Split decision: Dems take House, GOP retains Senate majority Midterm vote to set cyber agenda MORE (Okla.), who have been involved in immigration talks, however, say ending what they call “chain migration” and the visa lottery program must be part of any immigration deal. 

And in the House, it could be more difficult to pass a deal that just covers DACA and border security.

The immigration talks are closely tied to talks on a measure to keep the government funded, however, and some have speculated that an immigration deal might eventually be paired with a longer-term spending bill.

Congress faces a Feb. 8 deadline to pass a measure to keep the government open.