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 TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' 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 RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' 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 CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 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 PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 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 HoyerMaryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme GOP leader's marathon speech forces House Democrats to push vote Overnight Energy & Environment — Land agency move hurt diversity: watchdog 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 GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line 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 RoundsOvernight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda Jean Rounds, wife of South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, dies from cancer MORE (R-S.D.), a member of the group.

GOP Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneParnell exit threatens to hurt Trump's political clout Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp MORE (S.D.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — DOJ unveils new election hacking charges MORE (Ohio) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDemocrats face squeeze on Biden's spending bill Senators seek to permanently expand telehealth eligibility Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair 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 FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay 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 GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback 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 McConnellFive issues that will define the months until the midterms  Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves 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