Graham threatens to change committee rules to pass asylum bill

Graham threatens to change committee rules to pass asylum bill
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-S.C.) is threatening to change the Senate Judiciary Committee's rules for voting on legislation after most Democrats on the panel skipped a Thursday meeting, effectively blocking them from voting on legislation.

Graham's warning came after Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBiden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children Progressive groups ask for town hall with Feinstein to talk filibuster MORE (Calif.) was the only one of the panel's 10 Democrats who attended a business meeting on Thursday, where members were expected to vote on Graham's legislation to overhaul U.S. asylum laws.

It wasn’t clear if the absences were an attempt to block the Judiciary Committee from voting on Graham’s bill or if senators had scheduling conflicts. Several of the panel's Democrats are running for president and also missed the Senate's one roll call vote on Thursday.

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"I've been informed by my Democratic colleagues that Sen. Feinstein will be the only Democrat here. Under our rules we're not supposed to do business unless we get seven from the majority and two from the minority," Graham said.

"So what we'll do is we'll take this up Thursday, next week, I will make a motion to change the rules ... and we're going to vote," Graham added.

A spokesman for Graham confirmed that Republicans would have to vote to change the rules to nix the current requirement that two Democrats be at a meeting in order to vote on legislation.

Graham introduced legislation earlier this year that would would increase the number of days a family can be held together from 20 days to 100 days. Democrats have balked at changes to the Flores settlement, which limits the amount of time a minor can be held in custody to 20 days.

It would also require asylum claims be filed in Mexico or a home country instead of the United States, provide funding for 500 new immigration judges and allow unaccompanied minors from Central America to be sent back to their home countries, similar to unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico.

The committee had been expected to vote on Graham's bill last month, but Graham scrapped the vote after he and Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats New York gun rights case before Supreme Court with massive consequences  MORE (D-Ill.) met with White House adviser Jared Kushner, President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE's son-in-law, to try to find a path toward a bipartisan agreement.

But those talks have unraveled amid deep divisions over making changes to the Flores settlement, which Democrats view as a non-starter and Graham views as a must-have requirement in legislation.

Republicans have a majority on the Judiciary Committee and would have the votes to change the committee's rules and pass the asylum bill on their own.

But they're expected to hit a wall if the bill is brought up on the Senate floor for a vote, where they would need the support of 60 senators. Assuming every Republican senator voted for the bill, they would still need seven Democrats.

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, described negotiations as being at an "impasse."

"We're at an impasse, no question. There are very strong feelings on this side," she said, referring to Democrats. 

She added that Graham's bill is not bipartisan and "that's a real signal because it ain't going to happen if it's not."