Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump

Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump
© Greg Nash - Anna Moneymaker

Senate Republicans on Wednesday said legislation is still needed to address the overflow of detained immigrants at the border, but they are unlikely to pick up enough Democrats to get a bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE’s desk.

Republicans unveiled a bill that merged a variety of ideas put forth by Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrying to kick tobacco again This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (Texas) and Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis says impeachment is 'a waste of resources' GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising MORE (R-N.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers return to work as Dem candidates set to debate MORE (R-Texas) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats On The Money: Fed officials saw rising risk of recession | Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz blast NBA for 'outrageous' response to China | Prospects dim for trade breakthrough with China MORE (R-Ark.) as they seek one package that can win the support of the entire GOP conference.

A large group of senators, Democrats and Republicans, met Wednesday afternoon in centrist Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Susan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance MORE’s (R-Maine) office to find shared principles that could serve as the basis for a compromise bill.

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“The idea is to make sure we are bringing people from both sides of the aisle together,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong GOP braces for impeachment brawl Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy MORE (R-Colo.), who heads the Senate GOP campaign arm and attended the meeting. “Family separation, that’s what we want to stop. How do we come together as two parties to do that?”


Trump diffused the growing political crisis on Wednesday by signing an executive order that authorizes border agents to keep children with their detained parents indefinitely, which will likely end the spectacle of kids being forcibly removed from their families.

Regardless, GOP lawmakers say legislation must move forward.

“It would be helpful to codify some of that stuff. I think it eliminates the uncertainty and potential legal challenges,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment threatens to drown out everything Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (S.D.).

Cornyn, who met with Trump about a trade issue along with other members Wednesday, said the president approved of Congress moving forward with legislation during the White House meeting.

Republicans say a 1997 legal settlement known as the Flores settlement agreement, which does not allow children to be detained at the border beyond 20 days, must be reversed by an act of Congress.

“I think the Flores decision has to be dealt with legislatively,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong 10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (R-Ohio).

Without legislation, Republicans warned that Trump’s executive order could get bogged down or potentially overturned in court, prolonging a political fight that has plagued the administration’s actions on immigration.

“Ultimately it would be ideal if we could back that up by passing a law that does it so there wouldn’t be a court uncertainty,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Warren turns up heat in battle with Facebook | Instagram unveils new data privacy feature | Advocacy group seeks funding to write about Big Tech TikTok adds former lawmakers to help develop content moderation policies This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (R-Fla.). “You’re a court ruling away from being back to the same thing, potentially.”

Trump’s decision came after his “zero tolerance” policies that resulted in the separation of migrant families along the U.S.-Mexico border sparked intense, days-long backlash from GOP leadership and high-profile figures in the party.

But Republicans were caught flat-footed by Trump’s controversial policy, and the administration dispatched Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE to a closed-door GOP lunch to try to explain the administration’s thinking.

Trump’s executive order would keep families detained along the border “together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”

The order could lessen the chances the Senate ultimately passes legislation, where immigration is a political lightning rod and lawmakers were already running into partisan headwinds as senators lined up behind competing bills.

Underscoring the political tensions, Cruz questioned if Democrats would block legislation so they could use the issue as a political football for November’s midterm elections.

“I’m hopeful Democrats will work with us to end family separation,” Cruz said. “The question is, do congressional Democrats want to actually solve the problem or do they want an issue to campaign on in November?”

Democrats are deeply skeptical about passing a bill that would codify Trump’s order, arguing that it would support his zero tolerance policy of prosecuting illegal border crossers instead of deporting them.

They argue that it’s inhumane to detain children along with their parents indefinitely.

“To the extent that families can stay together that’s a good thing, but indefinite family detention is not a solution to the problem,” said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHouse to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senators ask Treasury to probe Brazilian meatpacker with major US footprint MORE (N.J.), a leading Democratic voice on immigration.  

“It does not solve the problem,” Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLobbying world 2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' MORE (D-N.Y.) said of Trump’s order. “Indefinite detainment of families is also inhumane. These children should be in school.”

Gillibrand, who is seen as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said a narrow bill codifying Trump’s order is insufficient and Congress should instead pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But lawmakers in both parties have warned that broad immigration legislation would never be able to clear Congress. A February immigration fight in the Senate resulted in a stalemate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) has shut down holding another broad, freewheeling debate. 

It remains to be seen if McConnell will want to tackle immigration again in the wake of Trump’s executive order. McConnell is co-sponsoring legislation introduced by Tillis and other Republicans on Wednesday. But if immigration fades from the headlines, McConnell could opt to move to other matters — such as voting on Trump’s pending nominees.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have struggled to get on the same page on immigration. Two immigration bills that call for major changes to immigration law — including allowing detained parents to be with their children — don’t appear to have the votes to pass the lower chamber. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSchiff should consider using RICO framework to organize impeachment We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout MORE (D-Calif.) has proposed a bill that has the backing of the entire Democratic caucus that would prohibit law enforcement from taking a child from a parent or legal guardian within 100 miles of the border. She said any Republican proposal to detain families together would be problematic.

Feinstein doesn’t think any sweeping immigration bill can pass Congress any time soon.  

“That means to me that we have to gather certain very precise rallying principles,” she added.

A senior Democratic aide called Republican legislation to keep detained families together “a complete waste of time” and said it’s being used as a “shiny object” to detract attention from Trump’s unwillingness to reverse his zero tolerance policy.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday dismissed questions about Democrats backing a GOP bill to address the border crisis, arguing it’s the president’s responsibility.

Schumer didn’t address legislation in his immediate reaction to the executive order Wednesday afternoon, instead saying it was a “relief that the president has reversed himself.”

“I also hope this represents a turning point and that the president will stop blaming others for problems he creates and start fixing them himself,” Schumer said in a statement.

Some Republican senators think that Schumer is purposely dragging his feet because Trump is taking a beating in the media over the controversy.

“Schumer doesn’t want to cooperate because this is such a wonderful issue for them,” said one Republican senator. “I’m sure he’s loving the headlines every morning.”