Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March

Congress is poised to kick a heated immigration fight into overtime, with no clear path forward.

With the Senate rejecting four proposals — including President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE's preferred plan and a key bipartisan deal — and no viable backup plan in sight, lawmakers are poised to hit pause on the issue until at least next month as they go back to the drawing board.

It’s a stark contrast from just a week ago, when senators had hoped to gain momentum coming out of what they anticipated to be a freewheeling floor fight.

Instead, both sides are pointing fingers and raising fresh questions about what, if anything, can win over two deeply divided chambers and the White House.

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House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis MORE (R-Wis.) is now pointing to the end of March as the deadline for his chamber to take action on an immigration bill. He’s pledged he will only bring up legislation that has the president’s support, making it a non-starter for many Democrats.

Ryan called an initial March 5 date “an important deadline,” but added that “it’s not as important as it was before, given the court rulings.”

“But I think this — this place works better with deadlines, and we want to operate on deadlines. We clearly need to address this issue in March. I'll just leave it at that,” he said.

Meanwhile, some GOP senators are pointing to a March 23 spending bill as a new goal post.

"I don't know when it's going to be. Obviously we're going to have to deal with the DACA issue probably on the [omnibus] because of what has happened ... and extend it,” 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.) told reporters, referring to the spending bill.

He added that he expected the mammoth spending bill could include a three-year extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but that it “may be longer.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, also wouldn’t rule out sticking a short-term extension paired with some border security funding in the omnibus.

“If there can be some negotiation leading up to the omnibus, perhaps there will be some temporary provision, which to me is not great but it’s kind of where we are,” he said.

But both timelines are weeks after the March 5 date Trump initially set for Congress to pass a DACA fix or risk the deportation of roughly 700,000 "Dreamers," immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

A judge issued an injunction in January forcing the administration to keep DACA on the books while litigation plays out. A second court ruling this month also allows current DACA recipients to keep renewing their status.

Though the court rulings have thrown Congress's timeline into flux, there’s no guarantee they can’t be overruled. And further complicating Dreamers' legal limbo, the Supreme Court could announce in a matter of days if they’ll hear the Trump administration’s appeal of the first injunction.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are bristling over the late March deadline, arguing GOP leadership is showing a lack of urgency over solving DACA.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel GOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) said the notion that Ryan would delay action until the end of March “means he doesn't know the fear that they have instilled into the families and into the hearts of these children.”

“Anyone who says that we have until the end of March doesn't really understand the gravity of the situation,” Pelosi said Thursday. “Let's just get on with it. What are you afraid of?”

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMcCarthy mocks Cheney and Kinzinger as 'Pelosi Republicans' Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, delivered a similar message, saying the DACA issue should be dealt with long before Congress is forced to return to the issue of government spending, which expires March 23.

“The Speaker said he’s going to address this issue,” Hoyer said. “He’s got four legislative days left to do that before the fifth of March, and he hasn’t done anything.”

But despite Democrats’ demand for action it’s unclear what proposal could unite Congress either by March 5 or the end of that month.

Trump has lashed out at Democrats following the Senate’s failed debate, saying they have treated DACA recipients “badly” and “totally abandoned” them.

And the administration is turning its attention to the House, where it’s pushing for a conservative proposal spearheaded by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.).

“The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman [Michael] McCaul [R-Texas],” the White House said in a statement.

Goodlatte’s plan would provide DACA recipients with temporary, renewable legal status — rather than citizenship — in exchange for authorizing funding for Trump’s border wall, ending family-based migration and scrapping the diversity visa lottery program.

It also includes tough border enforcement measures: The bill would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, boost penalties for deported criminals who try to re-enter the U.S. and require that employers use an electronic verification system known as E-Verify to make sure they hire legal workers.

But there’s skepticism among House Republicans that the bill will be able to secure 218 votes, and it's widely considered dead on arrival in the Senate.

Meanwhile, members of the Senate bipartisan group said they would continue talking among themselves about how to win over more support.

"We're going to look at what Republicans and Democrats might be able to support in the future. ... It's a matter of bringing in more ... colleagues to clarify the concerns that they have [and] we need to be able to answer them,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Schumer sets up key vote on bipartisan deal Graham: Bipartisan infrastructure pay-fors are insufficient MORE (R-S.D.), a member of the group.

GOP Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag MORE (S.D.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Schumer urges GOP to ignore Trump: He's 'rooting for failure' MORE (Ohio) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGraham: Bipartisan infrastructure pay-fors are insufficient This week: Democrats move forward with Jan. 6 probe Bipartisan senators ask CDC, TSA when they will update mask guidance for travelers MORE (Kan.) announced their own proposal immediately after the failed Senate votes, pairing permanent legal protections for DACA recipients with $25 billion in a border security trust fund.

But the legislation would likely spark backlash from Democrats because it doesn’t include a path to citizenship and would only apply to the roughly 700,000 current DACA recipients and not the larger 1.8 million Dreamers the chamber’s debate has centered around.

GOP 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 (Ariz.) is continuing to push for a proposal, which he initially offered as an amendment in the Senate debate, that would pair three years of DACA with three years of border security funding. Republican Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight MORE (S.C.) predicted Congress would eventually settle on a one-year point, which he called a “missed opportunity.”

But it’s unclear when, or even if, the Senate will return to immigration. Both chambers are out of town until Feb. 26, and senators are expected to turn back to confirming Trump's nominees when they return. 

Cornyn said it’s unlikely a stand-alone bill would get floor time, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios House rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) noted after the Senate’s failed debate that he had upheld his promise.

But he appeared to leave the door open to return to immigration if a bill emerged that could do what has so far been impossible: Unite Congress and the White House.

“This does not have to be the end of our efforts to resolve these matters,” he said. “I would encourage members to put away the talking points and get serious about finding a solution that can actually become law.”

— Mike Lillis contributed