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McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress GOP state attorneys general urge Biden, Congress not to expand Supreme Court The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (R-Ky.) is pledging to begin a free-flowing immigration debate next week, saying any proposal that gets 60 votes could get through the upper chamber.

McConnell, known for keeping his cards close to the vest, said Tuesday that the impending fiscal showdown will mark a “rare occasion” for an open debate and an “opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom.” 

“I’m going to structure in such a way that’s fair to everyone. ... Whoever gets to 60 wins,” he said during a press conference. 

When a reporter noted there are myriad proposals being floated, McConnell laughed before stressing that he doesn’t have a “secret plan.” 

“I can’t be specific because there’s no secret plan here to try to push this in any direction. The Senate is going to work its will, and I hope that we will end up passing something,” he said. 

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The move is putting the chamber on the precipice of a heated floor fight with senators largely in the dark about what the endgame will be, or even how the GOP leader plans to start the debate. 

 

“I know everybody wants an advantage, but he’s been pretty scrupulous about not giving anybody any ideas about where he’s starting,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn, Sinema unveil bill aimed at confronting border surge US Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill GOP sees immigration as path to regain power MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican. 

Asked what should be in the Senate’s base bill, he added: “That’s the $64,000 question everybody wants to know, and Sen. McConnell hasn’t told us.” 

Last month, McConnell promised a debate on immigration if the government shutdown ended. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate to vote next week on repealing Trump methane rule  Joe Lieberman to push senators on DC statehood On The Money: Yellen touts 'whole-of-economy' plan to fight climate change | Senate GOP adopts symbolic earmark ban, digs in on debt limit MORE (N.Y.), subsequently agreed to vote to open the government after a three-day shutdown.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRubio and bipartisan group of senators push to make daylight saving time permanent Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many MORE (R-Okla.), who has been involved in the immigration negotiations, also said on Tuesday that he does not know because “McConnell is the only one who can say what the base bill is going to be.” 

What will be included in the Senate’s bill has come under growing scrutiny as several groups have failed to produce an agreement that could reach 60 votes — the number needed to overcome a filibuster. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE shot down a new proposal from Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain rejects idea of running for office: 'I've been there' Bush says he doesn't criticize other presidents to avoid risking friendship with Michelle Obama 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsOn The Money: White House sees GOP infrastructure plan as starting point | Biden to propose capital gains tax hike White House sees GOP proposal as legitimate starting point Republicans unveil 8 billion infrastructure plan MORE (D-Del.) that would have included a path to citizenship for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children but did not provide funding for the president’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

Cornyn, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCornyn, Sinema unveil bill aimed at confronting border surge US Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill GOP sees immigration as path to regain power MORE (D-Ill.), Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerJoe Lieberman to push senators on DC statehood House Democrats eye passing DC statehood bill for second time Capitol Police chief: Threats against lawmakers up nearly 65 percent since last year MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress GOP state attorneys general urge Biden, Congress not to expand Supreme Court Pelosi: Jan. 6 commission must focus only on insurrection MORE (R-Calif.) have been talking for weeks with little to show for it. The group is made up of parties’ second-ranking lawmakers in each chamber.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re making a lot of progress,” Hoyer said. 

McConnell had hoped the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations would be able to produce a deal that could win over Senate Democrats, House Republicans and Trump. 

However, such an agreement seems unlikely, as both sides appeared to move further apart amid heated rhetoric and deep policy and political divisions in a midterm election year. Many GOP lawmakers are wary of taking up an immigration bill unless they know it’s backed by Trump.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) pointed out that talks among leadership are continuing but stressed he will not bring up a bill that the president doesn’t back. 

“We’re not going to bring immigration legislation through that the president doesn’t support. We’re working on something here in the House. We’re working on bipartisan negotiations. It’s going to be a bill that we support and the president supports,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday. 

Congress has until March 5 to pass a fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to work and go to school. 

If they fail to get a deal, roughly 700,000 immigrants will eventually be at risk of being deported because the Trump administration decided last year to nix the program. 

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE said Tuesday that Trump will likely not extend the deadline because the administration is “not so sure” he has that legal authority. 

He also noted, according to The Washington Post, that Trump’s framework would roughly double the number of immigrants currently getting legal protections. 

“The difference between 690 [thousand] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” he said. 

What ends up in the Senate’s base bill is entirely up to McConnell, who has been careful not to tip his hand. 

But the GOP leader is under an intense lobbying campaign from both sides, with the White House — including Kelly, legislative affairs director Marc Short and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE — making a pitch this week. 

“Look at our framework,” Short told reporters after the meeting. “I think we’d advocate our framework to be the base bill.”

The Trump proposal gave a path to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million immigrants in exchange for tens of billions in border wall funding and changes to legal immigration. 

A group of GOP senators, including Cornyn and Lankford, are working to turn the framework into legislation ahead of next week’s debate. 

“We’re not negotiating against ourselves and we’re also determined not to just go through a futile effort here — in other words, to try to pass something that the president won’t sign,” Cornyn said. 

Trump’s proposal has been panned by Democrats, with Durbin predicting on Tuesday that it can’t get 60 votes because no Democrat will support it. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term Congress looks to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-S.D.) added that using Trump’s framework as a starting point would likely be viewed as too broad and not bipartisan. 

“That can’t be the beginning because then the Democrats will say that’s not neutral,” he said. 

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill Senate to vote next week on repealing Trump methane rule  MORE (R-Maine), Rounds and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money: White House sees GOP infrastructure plan as starting point | Biden to propose capital gains tax hike House approves bill to make DC a state NRA unveils ad campaign to push back on Biden's gun agenda MORE (D-W.Va.) floated that McConnell could bring up an unrelated “shell” bill as the Senate’s starting point. That way, the Senate would essentially be starting from scratch. 

Rounds is part of a group of senators who have been advocating a narrow start to the Senate’s debate that would include a fix for DACA and border security, but leave more controversial fights — such as a pathway to citizenship, the diversity visa lottery and family-based immigration, which Republicans refer to as “chain migration” — to be sorted out on the Senate floor. 

Yet, the White House and some GOP senators have rejected the idea, even as a starting point, claiming it can’t pass the House or garner the support of Trump. The stalemate and the looming deadline is sparking private discussion among senators about potentially punting on the immigration fight by passing a yearlong DACA and border security patch. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill Joe Lieberman to push senators on DC statehood GOP sees immigration as path to regain power MORE (R-S.C.) said it was the “fallback position … but that’s most likely where we’re going to go.” 

He also signaled that the McCain–Coons proposal is unlikely to pass because it includes a path to citizenship, which is considered a non-starter for some Republicans.

“There’s too many moving parts,” he said. “[And] when you start talking about chain migration and doing away [with] the diversity lottery you run into a wall.”