Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks

Lawmakers are opening the door to reviving immigration negotiations, but a renewed effort to find a deal on border security is facing long odds on Capitol Hill.

With President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE’s frustration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) boiling over and a spike in migrants detained at the border, the White House is jump-starting its outreach to Democrats.

Acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Acosta out as Trump Labor secretary MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan met Wednesday night with a group of Democrats — including Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business MORE (D-Ill.) and Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (D-Calif.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersSenators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Alarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing MORE (D-Mich.), the top Democrats on the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees — to make the case for why it’s time for Congress to resolve the “humanitarian crisis” along the border.

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But Durbin was noncommittal about the chances that the latest round of talks will break the stalemate between Congress and the administration, which has rejected immigration deals that have emerged from the Senate.

“I can just tell you, this president has broken my heart so many times on immigration,” he told The Hill. “I start with a healthy degree of skepticism that we can do anything substantial.”

Other Democrats involved in the talks described them as “broad,” with no decision yet on the parameters for further negotiations. Lawmakers and the administration are expected to meet again after Congress’s two-week recess.

The path to a deal on immigration and border security is fraught with political and policy landmines, with bases in both parties likely to draw hard lines on what they could support in a potential agreement heading into the 2020 election.

Immigration talks have routinely collapsed on Capitol Hill amid deep policy divisions on crucial issues, including an unresolved fight over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a conservative push to cut legal immigration and the perennial battle over Trump’s controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump rejected a DACA-border security deal last year that included changes to the State Department’s diversity visa lottery program and family-based immigration policies two days after he told lawmakers that he would “take the heat” by supporting a bill. A separate proposal introduced by a group of Senate centrists last year failed to break a 60-vote filibuster after Trump threatened to veto it.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocratic Houston councilwoman announces Senate bid Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal MORE (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership and the Judiciary Committee, told The Los Angeles Times that he isn’t getting his hopes up on the prospects of a deal this time around.

“Most of the time, the immigration debate is a zero-sum game, and we never quite get there,” he said. “It always ends up breaking your heart.”

Trump is throwing another wild card into the negotiations by lashing out at Democrats even as his administration has reached out to lawmakers. He characterized them as being “treasonous” on border security hours after Mulvaney met with a group of Senate Democrats.

Ramping up the fight Friday, Trump said he is considering sending undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, which do not comply with federal immigration law.

“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

Democrats pounced on Trump’s comments, underscoring the political gap with the White House.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSally Yates: Moral fiber of US being 'shredded by unapologetic racism' Al Green calls for additional security for House members after Trump rally #IStandWithPresTrump trends in response to #IStandWithIlhan MORE (D-Calif.), whose support would be needed for any potential deal, told reporters that “it’s just another notion that is unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a county, as a people, to address who we are: a nation of immigrants.”

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Senators press FTC over 'woefully inadequate' Facebook settlement MORE (D-Mass.) added that Congress “must investigate, hold hearings, and hold accountable those who proposed this horrific and illegal course of action.”

But the nascent talks about trying again on immigration are getting a boost from top Republicans, who argue that it’s past time to tackle the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters during a pen-and-pad session in the Capitol that he was willing to “enter into a negotiation” with Democrats to try to find a deal that tackled the nation’s asylum laws and border security.  

“It can't all be solved by changing personnel. Some of it requires changing the law. That means we have to deal with the Democrats. They're in the majority in the House,” McConnell said, tipping his hand to the shake-up at DHS that resulted in the department losing several senior officials in the past week.

Republican senators say they are also working to come up with a tightly focused deal that would tackle asylum.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Trump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he is working to draft narrow legislation, though he acknowledged it could expand in order to gain support.

“I’m not talking about the whole broken immigration system,” he said. “We need a more accurate initial determination of an asylum claim.”

He added that lawmakers were “a lot further along” than they have been in the past and that he has “interest from Democrats” in his proposal.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Graham: Trump's attacks on minority congresswomen more 'narcissism' than racism Meghan McCain promotes July 17 as #GBMday to raise awareness of father's cancer MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, added that he thinks it’s possible Congress could get a narrow deal. Though he wants the White House to put forward its own proposal, he said that if it does not do so by the time Congress returns from recess on April 29, he would be ready to introduce his own legislation.

“If there’s any reason left in the body, we’ll find a way to get there,” he told The Hill about the chances of getting a deal.

Pressed on how he could get Democrats to go along with changing asylum rules, he added, “That’s part of the negotiation. ... What do you want?”