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'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.

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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) MenendezEmergency housing assistance for older adults needed now Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry 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. 

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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 DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty MORE (Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFunding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Obama says Democrats should make sure Ocasio-Cortez has a platform Ocasio-Cortez hits back after Manchin criticism MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampGrassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary Major unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet 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 McConnellHillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' On The Money: Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms | Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks | Poll: Most Americans support raising taxes on those making at least 0K Nearly one-third of US adults expect to lose employment income: Census Bureau 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 CruzCruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent Trump's NATO ambassador pledges 'seamless' transition to Biden administration 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 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks 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.

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Their targets would likely include Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Democrats must turn around Utah police arrest man driving 130 mph claiming he was going to kill former Missouri senator MORE (Mo.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyScranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Casey says he isn't thinking about Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid in 2022 MORE (Pa.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownACLU sues DHS for records on purchased cell phone data to track immigrants DHS watchdog to probe agency's tracking of Americans' phone data without a warrant Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing MORE (Ohio), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE (Fla.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan President is wild card as shutdown fears grow 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 HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.), up for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton offers congratulations over Elliot Page announcement Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Mellman: Mired in Partisanship 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 KaineCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus 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.”