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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 TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez 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 MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan met Wednesday night with a group of Democrats — including Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Sweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block MORE (D-Ill.) and Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinInfrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Calif.) and Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles 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 CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger 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 PelosiIncreasingly active younger voters liberalize US electorate Sunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez 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 MarkeyEd MarkeySenators ask airlines to offer cash refunds for unused flight credits Civilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide Senate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation 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 McConnellWashington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Lawmakers reach agreement on bipartisan Jan. 6 commission 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 JohnsonAll congressional Democrats say they have been vaccinated: CNN Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending 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 GrahamPro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood causes headache for GOP in key S.C. race GOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP 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?”