Senate

GOP senators skeptical of DACA deal in funding bill

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans on Wednesday appeared skeptical that a deal on a key Obama-era immigration program will end up in a mammoth government funding bill despite reports of an 11th-hour push by the White House.

“I don’t see — this [omnibus] has got lots of moving parts associated with it. … I think it’s going to be a heavy lift in light of all the other elements,” GOP Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said of a possible deal to include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provisions in a funding proposal. 

Asked if he had heard about a potential agreement on the DACA program, he said with a laugh: “Well, I see there’s statements by the president about it.” 

It was reported by The Washington Post earlier Wednesday that President Trump was open to a deal for “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, in a government funding package in exchange for money for a proposed border wall. 

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — the Senate majority whip who has been in the center of the immigration fight — also shot down including a DACA-border security agreement in next week’s government funding bill.

“I don’t,” he said when asked if he saw the immigration program being included. He added that he didn’t think Congress could reach an agreement.

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told The Associated Press that while the administration continues to negotiate on DACA, it would oppose a three-year extension in exchange for three years of border security funding.

Asked about a possible deal, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior House appropriator, quipped: “I’ve heard what I’ve read about it.”

The uncertainty comes as lawmakers have until March 23 to pass the mammoth funding bill and prevent the third government shutdown of the year. Lawmakers are scrambling to wrap up negotiations with several issues still under discussion.

GOP senators said the immigration issue did not come up during a closed-door caucus lunch on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) appeared skeptical, noting lawmakers would be hearing more about such an agreement if it was in play.

“I don’t know if that’s something we’re going to be able to do on the omni,” he said.  “[Is it] possible? Sure, if it’s part of the [omnibus]. … But being possible and being the right thing are two separate things.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said, “I have seen nothing of substance yet.”

The debate over DACA has largely stalemated since the Senate rejected three proposals, including the White House framework, last month.

And a March 5 deadline, established when the Trump administration announced it was ending the program last year, came and passed with no action from Congress. The program currently remains in place while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviews a U.S. district court injunction barring the administration from ending the program.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has twice tried to pass legislation that included a three-year DACA extension for three years of border security funding. He was blocked twice by Republican colleagues, including as recently as Tuesday.

Flake noted that aside from the Post report, he was in the dark, but would reach out to Vice President Pence, who he has previously called to talk immigration policy with.

GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) said following The Washington Post report that a three-year deal “fails to provide long-term certainty for our national security or immigrant families. We need to pursue a permanent solution now.” 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he heard “three different versions” of what the White House is offering.

“My only sources are reporters and you know how shaky that is,” he said.

He added that the president was “totally unreliable,” but he is “grasping at straws to find something to help these [DACA recipients].”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) refused to say if the administration approached him or his staff about trying to get a DACA-border security deal in the bill. Asked, he hesitated for several seconds before saying, “We talk about a lot of things.”
 
He added lawmakers “haven’t reached a final agreement” about if any border wall funding will be included. 
 
Updated: 4:38 p.m.
Tags DACA Dick Durbin Donald Trump government funding James Lankford Jeff Flake John Cornyn John Thune Marco Rubio Mike Rounds Richard Shelby Senate Tom Cole

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