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 McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (D-Del.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE (R-Ariz.) dealing with "Dreamers" and border security, an amendment from Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote 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 CollinsMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Welcome to ground zero of climate chaos 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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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 HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (Utah) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerEx-Sen. Dean Heller announces run for Nevada governor Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Democrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 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.”

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But Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing 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 ManchinJoe ManchinPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior —Pfizer: COVID-19 vaccine safe for young kids 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?

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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 RoundsMike RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill MORE (S.D.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Milley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod 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 CruzPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job O'Rourke prepping run for governor in Texas: report 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 TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden 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.