Senate

Bipartisan Senate group says they have immigration deal

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday said they have reached an immigration deal as lawmakers try to break through a gridlocked floor debate.

“It’s going to be ready today. It’s going to be ready today,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters after a closed-door meeting.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was also in the meeting, confirmed that they would be releasing an agreement on Wednesday, saying members were working on “tidying up the language.”

But leaving the meeting in Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-Maine) office, most members were tight-lipped about the content of their deal. 

The White House has demanded that any immigration legislation include the “four pillars” agreed to during a January meeting: A fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, border security, and changes to family-based immigration and the State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery. 

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the agreement would be a “two pillar” proposal dealing only with undocumented immigrants and border security.

Several other members of the working group — including Collins, Kaine and Flake — declined to discuss what was included, noting they were still working to finalize language.

“We’re very optimistic about getting an agreement on a bill. Of course, it’s never complete until everyone has a chance to see the language. … [But] I believe our group has come together on an approach,” Collins said.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) hedged slightly, saying the group is “getting closer.” But asked when reporters could expect to see an agreement, added: “Today is the day.” 

A narrow proposal could face an uphill battle in the Senate. And even if it passes that chamber, it has been declared dead on arrival by House conservatives. 

President Trump threw his support Wednesday behind a proposal from other GOP senators, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (Iowa), that largely aligns with the White House’s immigration framework. 

“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars — that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” Trump said in a statement.

The framework provides a path to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million immigrants brought to the country illegally as children in exchange for $25 billion on border security, tougher interior enforcement and new limits on legal immigration. 

Grassley questioned why Democrats would eat up the chamber’s time with other proposals. 

“Aren’t you at a point where here the Democrats have been pleading for months and months and months for justice. … Why would they turn it down?” asked Grassley, who appeared visibly frustrated and at times yelled at reporters. 

When a reporter noted that there wasn’t unanimous support for the plan, he added: “There’s some Republicans that don’t want to do anything on immigration.” 

Grassley stressed that the framework would also be open for amendments if they can overcome an initial procedural hurdle. 

But the plan is widely viewed as unable to get the 60 votes needed to either be attached to a House-passed bill being used as a shell for the Senate debate or to defeat a final filibuster before the Senate legislation can be passed. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) noted the bipartisan group’s plan isn’t exactly like Grassley’s but said “it still covers most of the bases.” 

“Everything I’ve seen in it I can support, but I know that it might be a bridge too far for some people on my side of the aisle,” he added when asked about the president’s framework. 

Democrats are urging Republican leadership to quickly bring up the Grassley proposal, in an effort to show that it can’t pass so lawmakers that can move on to other proposals.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took a first step toward a vote on the measure by making several proposals “pending”: the Grassley bill, a separate plan from Sens. Chris Coons and John McCain (R-Ariz.), a proposal from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would crack down on sanctuary cities and a placeholder for the Collins proposal.

The move would allow the Senate to eventually get votes, though nothing has been scheduled.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) backed that approach after Wednesday’s meeting. 

“I think the first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be a vote on the president’s proposal,” he said. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) added that: “I think we should have a vote on the president’s proposal. I think he’s shown strong leadership. … I think the sooner [the vote happens] the better.” 

The bipartisan group of roughly 20 senators has been meeting in Collins’s office for weeks to try to find an agreement on immigration.

As part of a deal to end a three-day government shutdown, McConnell agreed to turn to the immigration debate this week.

But the floor action stalemated on Tuesday when Democrats blocked McConnell’s efforts to set up votes.

The Senate formally started the immigration debate on Wednesday after a round of partisan fighting Tuesday. But senators haven’t yet agreed to schedule a vote on any immigration amendment.

McConnell wants to wrap up the debate this week. 

“The longer my colleagues across the aisle refuse to come to the table — the longer they’re unable to produce any legislation they actually support — the lower the odds that we can arrive at a legislative solution this week,” he warned on Wednesday. 

Updated at 2:28 p.m.

Tags Chris Coons Chuck Grassley deal Donald Trump Immigration Jeff Flake Joe Manchin John McCain Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey Senate Susan Collins Tim Kaine

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