Republicans jockey for position on immigration

Republicans are struggling to come to a consensus on legislation to protect young immigrants who came to the country illegally as minors from being deported as soon as next year.

President Trump in September nixed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, setting up a deadline next year for Congress to take action.

If Congress fails to do so, hundreds of thousands of people could face deportation.

Trump has already signaled he will blame Congress for the failure and has endorsed the idea of legislation, arguing former President Obama simply went too far in creating the program through executive action.

Many Republicans are broadly sympathetic to current DACA recipients, and as a result a deal seems like it could be in reach.

Still, there are a number of tricky issues, notably whether DACA recipients should ever have a path to citizenship and what border security measures will be attached to a legislative fix.

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Republicans are jockeying for position ahead of new negotiations with Democrats.

On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee is expected to take up legislation that would include $10 billion for securing the U.S.-Mexico border, including funding for new wall and fencing construction, border defense technology and aerial surveillance like drones.

Senate Democrats have said they will not accept funding for a border wall under any circumstances. The Trump administration has signaled that they would be willing to separate a fight over the border wall from legislation aimed at young undocumented immigrants.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit MORE (R-Texas), who attended Monday night’s White House meeting, noted there was no “specific discussion” of tying a border wall to a DACA fix during the closed-door dinner.

“The president has kicked this over to Congress as he should, that’s the right way to handle it, and so we need to come up with a solution,” he said when asked about the meeting.

Asked if the president mentioned the border wall, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said he didn’t want to get into specifics of the White House dinner but they agreed to “keep the scope … to the legal population. The legal immigration policies.”

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) — who is at the center of the Senate’s debate as chairman of the Judiciary Committee — has said he didn’t think it was “realistic” to include a U.S.-Mexico border wall in an agreement.

“Any potential deal on DACA has to include robust border security, and by that I don’t mean a wall,” Grassley added on Tuesday during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the program.

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately MORE (D-Ill.) have offered the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, but the latest version has only publicly won over three additional GOP senators: Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote MORE (Alaska), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.) and Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away MORE (Colo.).

GOP Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell support for election security funds leaves Dems declaring victory Election security funds passed by Senate seen as welcome first step Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy Warning signs flash for Tillis in North Carolina MORE (N.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (Utah) are pitching what they call a “conservative” alternative to the DREAM Act, called the SUCCEED Act.

The bill, which would largely track with current DACA recipients, would set up a 15-year path to citizenship if undocumented immigrants could meet a series of hurdles.

Conservatives have rallied behind the RAISE Act, introduced by Perdue and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' 2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft MORE (R-Ark.), which would cut back on the number of legal immigrants brought into the country each year and focus on “merit based” immigration.

Perdue said his bill was discussed during a White House dinner on Monday night held to on the issue. DACA, interior enforcement and e-verify — a program that allows employers to check if a person is legally eligible to work in the United States — were also discussed as parts of a potential deal.

“Anything is negotiable right? But we have to decide who we’re negotiating with and what we’re negotiating for. ... These are all parts of trying to fix the legal immigration system,” he said.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) has also convened a working group that includes both conservatives and more moderate members of the House Republican Conference.

Democrats and outside activists are pushing for a stand-alone vote on the DREAM Act, even as Democratic leadership is acknowledging that any deal would need to be paired with new border security measures.

“If we can sit down and come up with a reasonable list of border security provisions … I’ll join you in that effort,” Durbin said to Republicans during the Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Republicans warn that a DREAM Act is unlikely to pass after failing to gain traction during previous Congresses. But Durbin and Graham are expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday outside of the Capitol to push for a vote.

The Tillis-Lankford-Hatch bill has also won support from a coalition of outside groups, but some conservative organizations — including Breitbart News, a right-wing news organization overseen by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon — have labeled the bill “amnesty.” 

“Tillis-Lankford … is pretty much an amnesty-business-as-usual bill that rewards past lawbreaking without reducing the law-breaking in the future,” Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA, said in a statement about the bill.

Tillis and Lankford have tried to combat the conservative criticism, noting that by not addressing illegal immigration Congress has “facilitated a form of amnesty.”

“It is past time for Congress to stop kicking the can down the road and finally address our border security and immigration problems,” they wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed this week.

Tillis on Tuesday argued the White House needs to be clearer about what Trump would support in any deal.

“It would be very helpful to get from the administration what the priority is,” he said.

The White House is expected to release a set of immigration principles. And Stephen Miller — a top White House aide and former aide to then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' MORE (R-Ala.), now the U.S. attorney general and a hard-liner on immigration — and the White House domestic policy council have reportedly drafted a list of potential immigration policies, which would go beyond the scope of the tentative deal with Democrats.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said on Tuesday that it would be a “nightmare” to try to tackle DACA without including other security fixes favored by Republicans.

“I'm not saying comprehensive, I'll say multi-faceted. Comprehensive means big, multi-faceted means a number of different issues to address different aspects of immigration,” he said.

But Democrats are sending warning shots that any push by the administration to give into conservative demands could kill a fragile agreement.

“If Republicans continue to insist on measures outside of the DREAM Act and sensible border security that excludes the wall, they’re going to risk ruining a bipartisan agreement to protect the Dreamers,” Schumer said on Tuesday.

Asked if the White House and Democratic staff were currently actively negotiating, a Senate Democratic staffer noted they were waiting for the White House to send over a border security proposal.

Schumer added that interior enforcement provisions being pushed by some Republicans goes beyond the broad outline reached by Trump and Democrats last month.

“If they're backing off it because of pressure from the hard right, America ought to know, and we ought to know,” he told reporters.