Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to overhaul U.S. asylum laws on Thursday, waiving committee rules to force the legislation through over objections from Democrats. 
 
The Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 to send the bill, spearheaded by committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (R-S.C.), to the full Senate, where it's not expected to get the 60 votes needed to ultimately pass. 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
The decision by Graham to force his bill through the committee sparked outrage from Democrats on the panel, who accused him of busting up the rules on how legislation gets taken up in order to push through a partisan bill. 
 
As Graham asked for a vote to formally schedule a time to pass his bill, Democrats protested and argued that Republicans were breaking the rules. Graham ignored them.  
 
"You're breaking the rules of the committee," Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHouse passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum Democrats bullish on bill to create women's history museum: 'It's an election year' What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber MORE (D-Calif.) said as Graham directed committee staff to ignore Democratic attempts to speak ahead of the vote. 
 
 
The flashpoint on the committee comes after all Democrats except Feinstein skipped a business meeting last Thursday when Graham's bill was on the agenda. Under committee rules two members of the minority party have to be present to take up legislation or to hold it over until the next meeting. 
 
Because Graham wasn't able to hold over his bill, Republicans had to vote to "deem" it as held over, letting it bypass the panel's rules making it eligible for a vote on Thursday. 
 
Graham defended his decision saying he wasn't "changing the rules. I am making a motion in response to what you did last week." 
 
"Last week you chose not show up … What am I supposed to do?" Graham asked. "The committee can't be a place where nothing happens because the House may not pass it." 
 
Graham specified to The Hill on Wednesday that the decision to waive the committee's rules would only apply to his asylum bill, not any future legislation that's taken up by the committee. 
 
He countered on Thursday that a provision in the panel's rules allows a majority to change how legislation is handled. When Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders surge triggers Dem angst As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (D-Ill.) challenged him, Republicans on the panel voted to uphold Graham's decision. 
 
But that did little to assuage Democrats, who fumed during the hourlong committee hearing. 
 
"I am sick at heart at what we have done," Whitehouse said after the committee approved Graham's bill along party lines. "I hate what has just happened."
 
Durbin dismissed Graham's pledge that he was only waiving committee rules on the asylum bill, predicting the GOP senator would flip flop if Trump asked him to.

"I'm sorry but I don't believe that. I think that if Trump snaps his fingers again they'll do it all over again. They're afraid of him," Durbin said.
 
 
"If the majority is willing to break any rule in order to report this bill today, there are no rules. … This committee is nothing but a conveyor belt of ultra-partisan ideas. It's under the thumb and control of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE," Leahy said. "This is suppose to be the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not the Donald Trump committee." 
 
Graham appeared visibly angry and red-faced as he responded to Leahy, saying Democrats were effectively trying to strip him of his chairmanship. 
 
"What you're telling me is that I should ignore what you did to me last week? I will not. … You're not going to take my job away for me. I take this very personally," Graham said. "You may not like what we do over here, you can vote 'no.' But this committee is not going to be the dead end committee." 
 
Graham’s bill touches on the detention of families who cross the border, as well as their possible separation, one of the most sensitive issues in politics right now.
 
It would increase the number of days a family can be held together from 20 days to 100 days, preventing family separations but lengthening the amount of time children can be held in custody with their parents. 
 
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 and Mexico
 
 
"The committee will be breaking and violating its own rules. Why even have rules?" Feinstein asked. "It should also be noted by moving forward today, the majority will be breaking the rules of the Senate." 
 
"We're not the House," she added. "This is not a body intended to run on power alone and majority will." 
 
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' MORE (D-N.Y.) signaled during a press conference on Thursday that Democrats would not support the bill.

"Chairman Graham and Judiciary Committee Republicans are breaking their committee rules to jam through a partisan bill," he told reporters. "We cannot and will not support this partisan process, or this partisan bill."
 
Graham acknowledged that his bill was unlikely to get Democratic support if it is brought up for a vote on the Senate floor but he didn't want the panel to "become irrelevant." 
 
"I don't want bills like this to go directly to the floor … but I am not going to stop the process," he said. "It is now time for us to move forward and get this bill out of committee."
 
Updated 2:21 p.m.