The Senate is doing something highly unusual today in the strictly scripted and tightly controlled Mitch McConnell era: it is beginning an open-ended debate on immigration and DACA legislation.
As Axios reports:
In the words of a senior Senate aide, Mitch McConnell will effectively tell his colleagues: “Listen boys and girls, you all have lots of different ideas about what should be done on immigration. So put your big boy and big girl pants on, and put your ideas on the floor for a vote. Do your best; try to get to 60 votes to pass a bill.”
POLITICO adds, McConnell’s immigration gamble:
Usually careful with his every move, the Senate majority leader is taking a gamble this week with his pledge for a free-for-all debate over the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
No one knows the GOP leader’s endgame, nor how he personally prefers the stalemate over Dreamers be resolved. It’s highly unusual for a Senate majority leader, particularly one as calculating as McConnell, to bring a divisive issue to the floor with no clearly intended result in sight.
Even his top lieutenants aren’t sure whether McConnell would ultimately support a final immigration deal that can clinch the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.
“Mitch is ambivalent,” said a Republican senator. The White House has no idea what he is going to do, according to a senior administration official.
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What is clear is that the Kentucky Republican’s pledge of unlimited amendments could open vulnerable senators in both parties up to politically tough votes on a range of contentious issues — from beefed-up enforcement to a pathway to citizenship. And despite allies’ claims that McConnell wants to get the issue off the Senate’s plate, there’s no guarantee his promise for a freewheeling immigration debate will yield a new law.
McConnell is supposed to use a “shell” bill which will be filled in by any amendments that the Senate can manage to pass, presumably with the requisite 60 votes needed for cloture of debate.
Seven hardliner Republican senators released an immigration bill Sunday that largely mirrors the controversial proposal President Trump recently unveiled, which is expected to be debated on the floor this week, CNN reports. GOP senators introduce version of White House immigration framework:
A group of Republican senators on Sunday night released a version of President Donald Trump’s immigration proposal ahead of a floor debate on immigration this week.
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The bill is not expected to have 60 votes in support of it, the threshold required to advance legislation in the Senate. Democrats have uniformly objected to the cuts to family migration and have issues with the ending of the diversity visa without another way to support immigrants from countries that are otherwise underrepresented in immigration to the US. The so-called reforms to current immigration laws also face steep opposition.
This proposal is expected to be one of several amendments the Senate will consider this week as it debates immigration. There are already several competing bipartisan plans, which President Trump has previously rejected.
The Washington Post points out the uncertainties for any Senate DACA bill which may emerge this week. Up next in the Senate: Immigration. And nobody knows what will happen.
Even if the Senate is able to pass a bill, it’s far from certain that the House will move ahead with it. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that the House “will bring a solution to the floor, one the president will sign.”
What exactly Trump will support remains crucial yet unknown, as he has shown little willingness to accept anything short of the four-part plan he proposed last month.
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Trump sparked the debate in September by announcing the end of DACA, which grants temporary legal status to about 690,000 dreamers. He has given lawmakers until March 5 to enact a permanent solution.
But Congress has failed for years to secure the votes to pass a Dream Act, as the legislation has become known.
Supporters of such legislation had hoped to tie it to the debate over spending, which has prompted two brief government shutdowns in recent weeks. Although that didn’t happen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did agree to set the immigration debate in motion last month when, facing pressure from senators in both parties, he said he would permit votes on immigration proposals in exchange for ending the first shutdown, last month, which lasted three days.
“I’m not trying to tilt the playing field in any particular direction,” he said last week when asked about the debate.
Unlike most congressional debates, which begin with a prepared piece of legislation, the give-and-take over immigration will not. Instead, McConnell used his powers as floor leader late last week to bring up an unrelated bill that he said will be used as the “shell” for the debate. The shell can be reshaped when a proposed amendment has the 60 votes needed to clear procedural challenges and pass. Once amendments are added, the final bill will also require at least 60 votes to survive and pass.
“Every ounce of energy this week is going to be spent on crafting a bill that protects dreamers and can get 60 votes,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “It’s a hard needle to thread, but we are making progress.”
Sen. Jeff Flake said in a separate interview last week that immigration “is something that Mitch has been loath to address; we know that.” The forthcoming debate “may not yield anything — that’s dangerous in and of itself — but we just don’t know what coalitions will develop and what amendments will gain steam.”
Aides in both parties and advocates tracking the debate expect that Democrats and Republicans will try introducing proposals to test the Senate’s appetite for reform.
In addition to the Trump hardliner’s bill from Senator Chuck Grassley, above, there are competing bipartisan bills:
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been hosting meetings in her office since last month’s shutdown, trying to get about 25 senators in a bipartisan “Common Sense Caucus” to endorse a plan that could pass overwhelmingly. After several long meetings fueled by several boxes of Girl Scout cookies, they still have nothing.
“I don’t know whether we can get there or not,” she said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the group, said the talks are “a true test for the U.S. Senate: Will senators go to the opposite corners of the partisan boxing ring, or will they come together to resolve a critical issue?”
A bipartisan proposal by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) has been dismissed by Trump as a “waste of time.” It would grant legal status to a larger pool of undocumented immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing and not immediately authorize spending the $25 billion Trump wants to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border. Their bill also says nothing about curbing family-based legal migration or making changes to the diversity lottery program.
Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to introduce a new version of the Dream Act, a bill first introduced during George W. Bush’s presidency that would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of dreamers. A majority of Americans support the concept, but it is opposed by most Republicans unless it is passed alongside changes in border security.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chief Democratic negotiator on immigration, is the longtime lead sponsor of the Dream Act. If he doesn’t introduce it, Democratic Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) or Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — all of whom are mulling 2020 presidential bids — might assume the mantle.
Divisions among Republican senators have flared in recent weeks over what should be in an immigration bill, adding to the complications of securing an agreement.
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Sens. Perdue and Cotton, two of Trump’s staunchest allies, have also been seeking to curb legal immigration — an idea long championed by White House [white nationalist] aide Stephen Miller but opposed by other GOP lawmakers.
One wild card is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an architect of the comprehensive immigration deal that passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House. Rubio, who struggled to explain his effort to the conservative base when he ran for president in 2016, has taken more of a back seat in the talks this time around.
The immigration debate “is like a Rubik’s Cube,” Rubio said. “I mean, every time you line up the red side of the Rubik’s Cube, the blue side is off balance, and vice versa.”
In the end, the true wild cards are the “Speaker of the White House” Paul Ryan, who has abdicated the separate but equal role of the Congress to an authoritarian unitary executive branch, and the authoritarian white nationalist racist in the White House.
If the Senate can pass a bill, and that remains to be seen, there are no guarantees that the House will even take up the Senate bill let alone debate it, or ever pass a DACA bill.
And there are no guarantees which Donald Trump will weigh in on the Senate DACA bill — the “Tuesday Trump” who said he wanted “a bill of love” to protect the DREAMers, or the “Thursday Trump” who demanded his “big beautiful wall” to keep out immigrants from “shithole countries” and who rescinded President Obama’s DACA executive order to manufacture this crisis in the first place.
If Congress fails to pass a DACA fix, President Trump and the GOP Congress own that failure. In fact, failure may be what the “mass deportation party” actually wants to happen so they can get on with mass deportations.
NOTE: It is not certain whether Sen. John McCain, who is undergoing cancer treatments, will participate in the DACA debate and cast his votes. Call Senator Jeff Flake today and let him know your position on a DACA fix for the DREAMers.