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McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now 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 CornynBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip 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 SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (N.Y.), subsequently agreed to vote to open the government after a three-day shutdown.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' 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 TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE shot down a new proposal from Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats 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 DurbinPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack MORE (D-Ill.), Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars McCarthy: No commitment from Trump to not target Republicans 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 RyanCruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Bottom line Ex-Trump chief of staff Priebus mulling Wisconsin governor bid 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 RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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 FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden Why the 'Never-Trumpers' flopped Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (R-Maine), Rounds and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike White House noncommittal on 'Plan B' push to add wage increase to relief bill 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 GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report 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.”