'Kate's Law' battle shifts to the Senate, testing Dems

'Kate's Law' battle shifts to the Senate, testing Dems
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The fight over immigration enforcement is moving to the Senate, where Democratic opposition will be tested.

The House passed a pair of immigration bills late last week: “Kate’s Law” to increase maximum penalties for criminal aliens who attempt to re-enter the country, and a second bill cutting funding to cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration laws. 

Republicans got an unexpected boost when two-dozen House Democrats voted for “Kate’s Law,” viewed by GOP supporters as a first step toward implementing President Trump’s campaign promises on immigration.

The defections came after House Democratic leaders said they wouldn’t twist arms to get their members to oppose the legislation. But the outcome is raising questions about whether Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 will similarly break rank as the fight shifts to the upper chamber.

Senate Democrats are expressing confidence that they’ll be able to block the bills if they are brought up for a vote. 

"I will do whatever I can in order to stop them. These are only punitive in nature, they don't deal with the totality of the reality of our immigration challenge, and as a continuing part of the Republican saga that only looks at one element, and looks at it in a way that is totally disproportionate," Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-N.J.) said. 

Democrats previously blocked similar proposals in 2015 and 2016. But a renewed push could force the 10 senators running for reelection in purple and red states won by Trump to take a tough, politically controversial vote.

A top House Democratic aide predicted that “Kate's Law” would be used in campaign ads against vulnerable Democrats. 

"The ad writes itself," said the aide. "They're gonna use Kate Steinle's picture in a Willie Horton-style ad," referring to a controversial 1988 TV ad used by President George H.W. Bush's campaign against Michael Dukakis. 

Red-state Democrats are remaining tightlipped about the two immigration bills amid the fight in the Senate over repealing ObamaCare.

But Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (N.D.) previously voted to take up a bill toughening penalties on some undocumented immigrants who illegally re-enter the country after being deported.

A senior Senate Democratic aide questioned if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans MORE (R-Ky.) would bring up the House bills with Democrats still largely opposed to tougher immigration proposals.

“Nobody has changed their view on that to my knowledge. I'm not sure McConnell will even bring them up,” the aide said when asked if Democrats would be able to block the House bills similar to previous votes.

But Senate Republicans will likely face growing pressure to move a bill cracking down on illegal immigration after Trump praised the House-passed bill.

“Now that the House has acted, I urged the Senate to take up these bills, pass them, and send them to my desk. I am calling on all lawmakers to vote for these bills and to save American lives,” Trump said after the House’s vote. 

Trump repeatedly invoked the shooting of 32-year old Steinle on the campaign trail to promote his immigration agenda, including during his speech at the Republican National Convention last summer when he accepted the party’s nomination.

Steinle was fatally shot in 2015 in San Francisco by a man who had had seven previous felony convictions and was deported to Mexico on five previous occasions. 

The House bill could have competition for Senate floor time as lawmakers prepare to return for a jam packed three-week session where they have a slew of must-pass bills and a looming fight over Trump’s FBI nominee. 

But conservatives are already clamoring for the Senate to try to crack down on illegal immigration. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R-Texas) wants a vote this year and has introduced his own version of “Kate’s Law.”

“The House of Representatives took a tremendous step today to protect our national security and ensure the safety of our communities by passing Kate’s Law,” Cruz said after the House’s vote.  “I look forward to the Senate swiftly taking up this bill and hopefully, passing it.”

Unlike the House bill, Cruz’s version includes a five-year minimum sentence for any undocumented immigrant who re-enters the country illegally after previously being deported twice or convicted of an aggravated felony. 

A spokesman for McConnell said he didn’t “have any [scheduling] announcements yet this week.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican and a close ally of McConnell’s, is also working on a broader border security bill that is expected to touch on illegal immigration. 

The bill, which is still being crafted, includes mandatory minimum sentences for certain immigrants who try to re-enter the country after being deported, according to a draft copy of the legislation

A spokesperson for Cornyn confirmed on Monday that the bill would also target funding for cities that don’t comply with federal immigration policy but said “that provision is different than the bill passed by the House last week.”

Republicans will need to win over at least eight Democratic senators to pass any immigration or border security bill. Spokespeople for Manchin and Donnelly didn’t respond to a request for comment about their positions.

If the three Democratic senators did vote with Republicans on a proposal to impose tougher penalties on undocumented immigrants re-entering the country illegally, GOP leadership would still need to flip an additional five senators.

Their targets would likely include Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Mo.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines Pennsylvania school district turns down local businessman's offer to pay off student lunch debts MORE (Pa.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (Ohio), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (Fla.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (Mont.) — each up for reelection next year in states won by Trump.

There are already early signs that a vote for or against the bill would be prime fodder for the 2018 election, where Democrats are defending 25 seats and Republicans are only protecting eight.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.), up for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid MORE, quickly hit two potential Democratic opponents for their votes against “Kate’s Law.” 

“Congresswomen Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen disqualified themselves from public office. Let’s be clear, Congresswomen Titus and Rosen sided with violent criminals, some of which have committed horrendous crimes against Nevadans, over law enforcement and keeping our communities safe,” said Tommy Ferraro, a spokesman for Heller’s re-election campaign. 

But Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup MORE (D-Va.), who is also up for reelection, downplayed the chances that Democrats would help pass the bill as long as Republicans are unwilling to discuss broader immigration reforms.

“Democrats are not going to stand for harsh anti-immigration measures, we're not,” he said. “If they're not willing to meaningfully dialogue with us about immigration reform, you're not going to see us embracing their super-partisan anti-immigration bill.”