What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes

The Senate is barreling toward a showdown on the floor over immigration, with both sides digging in as they hunt for 60 votes.

The battle could come to a head as soon as Thursday, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) urging lawmakers to move forward quickly.

“At a minimum, under the regular order, we can make sure at least they receive a vote by Friday morning. I hope the Democratic leader will finally consent to hold these votes on amendments today,” he said.

McConnell has teed up four proposals: A measure from Sens. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSunday shows preview: White House officials on offensive in wake of anonymous NY Times op-ed Congress and Trump are out of step on intellectual property White House drops plan to cut foreign aid MORE (D-Del.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.) dealing with "Dreamers" and border security, an amendment from Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) cracking down on sanctuary cities, a bipartisan proposal from the Common Sense Coalition and a framework from the White House.

Under Senate rules, the soonest the Senate can vote is early Friday morning, unless lawmakers agree to speed things up. No votes are currently scheduled.

To overcome an initial procedural hurdle, any proposal would need to get 60 votes, meaning the support of both Republicans and Democrats.

As of Thursday morning each of the four measures appeared short of that total, though lawmakers and the White House are scrambling to lock down support.

Here’s what to watch for.

How many votes can the centrist measure get?

The centrist group, led by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday White House says Kavanaugh ready to testify over 'false allegation' MORE (R-Maine), is working to win over wary members on both sides.

Only eight Republican senators are on board with the proposal. If every Democratic senator supports it — which is not guaranteed — they would need at least 11 Republicans to get 60 votes.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters he is working to whip votes for the plan.

“We’re close,” he said on Thursday. 

The proposal includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, often referred to as Dreamers. It also contains $25 billion for border security and narrow changes to family-based immigration.

Several Republicans who backed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013 that was much more expansive, including Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDem rep who met with Kavanaugh accuser: 'She wanted her truth to come out' Senate passes bipartisan bill to curb opioid crisis Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (Utah) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerPoll: Dean Heller running even against Democratic challenger Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms California was once the epicenter of pollution — time to learn from its green transition MORE (Nev.), have yet to say whether they will support the plan. 

A spokesman for Hatch said he is currently reviewing each of the proposals but "wants to support a proposal that not only can pass the House, but that can be signed into law by the President.”

But Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMurkowski 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-Tenn.), who also voted for the 2013 bill, on Thursday said he would vote against the bipartisan proposal, dealing a blow to the effort.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is actively lobbying against the proposal, saying it will incentivize more illegal immigration and increase crime.

In a statement Thursday, the White House said advisers would recommend that Trump veto the centrist bill if it reached his desk. 

“This Amendment would drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law. … The Amendment would undermine the safety and security of American families and impede economic growth for American workers,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. 

Underscoring the uphill path the amendment has, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTop Senate Dem: Public hearing is ‘only way to go’ for Kavanaugh accuser Durbin calls for delay in Kavanaugh vote Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (D-Ill.) warned that some members of the Democratic caucus could also oppose the plan over money it contains for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and a provision that blocks Dreamers from sponsoring parents that knowingly brought them into the country illegally.

"I'm telling you, there are people with serious issues over this compromise," Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said after a closed-door caucus meeting. 

If the bipartisan plan falls short of 60 votes, there’s a possibility that several Democrats — particularly those eying a run for the White House in 2020 — will end up voting against it.

How much support will Trump's "four pillars" plan get?

Trump’s plan, spearheaded by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWife of 'Glow' director writes 'Stop Kavanaugh' on her arm for Emmy Awards Grassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify MORE (R-Iowa), is widely expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.

If every Republican backed the measure, which appears unlikely, Grassley would still need to win over at nine Democratic senators to reach 60.

Only one Democratic senator, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (W.Va.), has signaled he could potentially back Trump’s framework.

“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 told reporters.

The bill, which mirrors the White House framework, includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people, $25 billion in border security, tougher interior enforcement and significant cuts to legal immigration.

The White House framework guts the diversity visa lottery program, making up for the cuts in legal immigration by accelerating admission of people stuck in the green card backlog.

How many Republicans will break with the president?

One thing to watch for is how many Republicans vote against the White House’s plan.

With that vote coming last, many Senate Republicans might be wary of contributing to the defeat of Trump’s proposal, even if many of them would prefer the bipartisan approach. Winning significantly less votes on the floor would be an embarrassment for the White House.

It remains to be seen whether Republican senators who have been involved in the bipartisan talks, like Collins, Graham, 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 (S.D.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story Rubio defends Haley over curtains story: Example of media pushing bias House lawmakers urge top intel official to probe national security threat of doctored videos MORE (Fla.), will support the White House framework if it’s the last chance for action on immigration. 

Flake, for one, has said he can’t support the White House plan due to the cuts it would make to legal immigration.

Republican senators up for reelection may be especially keen to avoid a break with the White House on the issue, given how crucial Trump’s support can be in fending off a primary challenge.

At least one Republican, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt FEC: Cruz campaign didn't violate rules with fundraising letter labeled ‘summons’ Cruz criticizes O'Rourke on Dallas shooting: Wish he wasn't 'so quick to always blame the police officer' MORE (Texas), appears dead set against all of the immigration proposals, including Trump’s. He voted against starting debate and says the Senate should not pass “amnesty” for Dreamers.

Will any Dems agree to Trump measure if it's the last bill standing?

Republicans are preparing to dare Democrats to either support the White House’s framework or accept doing nothing.

Under McConnell’s floor maneuvering, Trump’s plan is currently the last of the four measures to get a vote — setting up a take-it-or-leave-it dynamic for Democrats.

But Durbin predicted the Grassley–White House plan will still fall short, even if nothing else is able to get 60 votes.

"I think the writing's on the wall with the Grassley proposal. ... Few if any Democrats will vote for it,” he said.

Republicans will likely put pressure on the 10 Democrats up for reelection in states won by President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE in 2016, as well as Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who just won a seat from the Republican-leaning state of Alabama.

Democrats will have to weigh the White House framework against the possibility of coming up empty-handed and playing the blame game with Trump from now until November.

And Grassley, who has repeatedly lashed out at Democrats, said if they agree to give his plan an initial 60 votes they would be able to offer changes before a final vote.

"Here's an opportunity to do something. We shouldn't miss this opportunity. ... It's got the best chance of getting through the House of Representatives, and it's the only one that you hear talked about that the president will sign,” he said.

If all of the Senate plans fail, it could give a boost to a more hawkish immigration bill in the House proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteVirginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers Republicans ready to grill Bruce Ohr as Trump-DOJ feud escalates MORE (R-Va.). 

Still, it remains to be seen whether Goodlatte’s bill can pass the House. And even if it did, it would almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Senate, essentially ensuring a failure to legislate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at least before March 5.