Senate hits wall on immigration

Senate hits wall on immigration
© Greg Nash

The Senate’s immigration debate is hitting a wall before it even gets started.

Democrats blocked Republicans from setting up votes on Tuesday, while GOP senators themselves outlined different approaches for how to build a compromise that could get 60 votes — the supermajority required to overcome a filibuster and clear legislation from the Senate.

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Conservatives are trying to draw a hard line on the White House framework as the only game in town that President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE will sign.

“The president’s framework is not an opening bid in negotiations. It is a best and final offer,” Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSprint/T-Mobile deal must not allow China to threaten US security GOP senators condemn 'vulgar' messages directed at Collins over Kavanaugh GOP turns its fire on Google MORE (R-Ark.) told reporters.

The proposal would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants brought into the country illegally as children in exchange for $25 billion in border security, as well as more controversial changes to legal immigration and interior enforcement.

Supporters argue it represents a significant concession from Trump, who backed deporting the roughly 11 million immigrants currently in the country illegally as part of his presidential bid.

There are doubts, however, that it could get enough support from Democrats to reach 60 votes. No Democrat has come out to support the bill, though Cotton thinks centrists could be pulled over.

And while the Trump proposal has the support of GOP leaders, the caucus is not united.

Sen. 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.) said that while it had “informed the discussion,” senators needed to work out the endgame amongst themselves.

“I think this is a Senate product. He has his framework already out there. That’s informed the discussion, but we need to work this out ourselves,” he said.

With the floor debate largely at a standstill, rank-and-file Republicans are drafting a range of alternatives.

These include a years-long patch to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump is unwinding and broader bills that would address each of the “four pillars” agreed to during a bipartisan meeting with Trump last month.

“We’re beginning to refine whether or not it’s a two-pillar bill or a four-pillar bill, and what are the combinations that would allow it to be four pillar,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Graham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump MORE (R-S.C.).

Republicans are under pressure from the party’s base to take a hard stance in the negotiations, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report MORE (R-Ky.) is stressing that a bill must be able to pass the House and win the support of Trump.

NumbersUSA is urging its members to call senators and tell them to oppose any bill that doesn’t fulfill “Trump’s promises,” including ending the State Department’s diversity visa lottery program and “chain,” or family-based, immigration. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Mo.) said a final agreement could still emerge but questioned whether any legislation could win 60 Senate votes and also pass the House. 

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the debate develops, and I’m not sure the plan is on the table yet that’s the plan that finally passes,” he said.

A bipartisan group of roughly 20 senators, led by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage MORE (R-Maine), are searching for a compromise the might be backed by centrists in both parties.

“We’re continuing to have discussions. ... I think we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet. This is a very complex issue, and you pull one thread and unravel a whole other part of the tapestry,” Collins said.

The group had largely been focused on trying to find an agreement that could serve as the starting point of the Senate’s debate, with multiple members of the group floating a narrower deal that focused on a fix for DACA and border security.

But 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.) said a subgroup of the coalition is working on a broader proposal that would also deal with changes to family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery.

“It’s a drafting group that we want to present to the full group,” he said, adding that there could be “several drafting groups.”

Flake is preparing two measures: a three-year DACA and border security patch and a broader measure that would provide a path to citizenship for some DACA recipients in exchange for $25 billion in border security and changes to legal immigration.

Graham and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin: ‘No reason’ for people to remember Kavanaugh at party accuser describes Durbin: Kavanaugh's accuser is not being treated respectfully Grassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap MORE (D-Ill.) both indicated on Tuesday that they haven’t made a final decision about whether to try to get a vote on their Gang of Six bill that has been repeatedly shot down by Trump and the White House.

Meanwhile, Sen. 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.) said he is planning offer his plan with Sen. 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.), who is battling brain cancer. But Republicans predicted that bill could not get 60 votes as it’s currently written.

“I have tremendous respect for both of them, but I think people are looking for something a bit more robust,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.).

The division among Republicans could give leverage to Democrats, who believe they will need to put up the bulk of the votes for any immigration deal in the Senate.

“Let’s do Senate immigration math for a minute. There’s never been … a major immigration measure that’s passed the Senate without an overwhelming Democratic majority and enough Republicans,” Durbin said.

Senators have little time. McConnell wants to end the debate this week, and Trump has set a March 5 deadline, at which point DACA recipients could lose their legal status to stay in the United States.

While the courts could prevent the administration from ending the program, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is warning Trump that won’t extend the deadline.

“I think the time for talking is sort of coming to an end, and now it’s a time for voting,” 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 (R-Texas). “If there’s no deal by the end of the week that, I think, leaves the DACA recipients in some jeopardy.”