McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week GOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal 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 CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.), subsequently agreed to vote to open the government after a three-day shutdown.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Outdated global postal system hurts US manufacturers Tech mobilizes to boost election security MORE (R-Okla.), who has been involved in the immigration negotiations,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 John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE shot down a new proposal from Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsJudiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh Kavanaugh allegations could be monster storm brewing for midterm elections      Sunday shows preview: White House officials on offensive in wake of anonymous NY Times op-ed 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ill.), Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil 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 RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign 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 NielsenFEMA head to reimburse government for use of federal vehicles: report US to prioritize attacks against foreign adversaries under new cyber strategy Paddlers sue Trump over frequent golf visits shutting down the Potomac River 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 RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsOn The Money: Treasury rules target blue-state workarounds to tax law | Senate approves sweeping defense, domestic spending bill | US imposes B in tariffs on Chinese goods | Panel narrowly approves consumer bureau pick Senate panel narrowly approves Trump consumer bureau pick GOP sen: Sessions is ‘the right man for the job’ 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 FlakeGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Coulter mocks Kavanaugh accuser: She'll only testify 'from a ski lift' Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? Kavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate MORE (R-Maine), Rounds and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Cook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh 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 GrahamSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Kim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' 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.”