The Senate has left town without a deal on immigration.
After months of failed negotiations, senators voted down four immigration proposals Thursday. The bill that had President Donald Trump’s blessing received the fewest votes. The only comprehensive bipartisan proposal on the table not only failed to win enough votes, but was also panned by Trump’s administration.
This week was meant to be dedicated to robust and open immigration debate — a promise Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made to Senate Democrats to end the three-day government shutdown in January. But what was supposed to result in an immigration bill ultimately ended in only an hour and a half of actual action on the Senate floor, and nothing to show for it.
“I think we had 13.3 total minutes of debate,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said.
The Trump administration has pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by March 5, a date by which Congress had to pass some kind of legislative fix for the roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants whose legal protections will be put in limbo.
That’s now unlikely. Republican senators appear to have thrown their hands up in the air finding a solution.
Two senators, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who had been a lead negotiator on the bipartisan proposal, and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who sponsored the proposal mirroring the White House’s framework, said their work wasn’t done, but they wouldn’t be coming back to immigration anytime soon.
“I think a couple weeks,” Rounds said of when the Senate might revisit immigration — certainly not by the March 5 date, he added. Congress also has a government spending deadline on March 23, which some said could set up another immigration fight.
But for now, senators seem to be on the hunt for the path of least resistance.
Senators are looking at different ways to punt on DACA
So far, the Trump administration has called for a framework for a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers, in exchange for border wall funding, an end to the diversity visa lottery program, and substantial cuts to family immigration — to stop “chain migration” — which critics say would gut the legal immigration system by up to 40 percent. The far-reaching demands have proven to be far too conservative for Democrats and many Republicans to sign on to.
So now senators like GOP Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) are floating a narrow backup plan that would enshrine DACA into law — without offering a path to citizenship — in exchange for $25 billion for border security, capped at $5 billion per year.
There are a number of similar proposals that would “punt” on DACA. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has proposed extending DACA for three years, until Congress can think of a more permanent solution.
It’s not clear whether the Trump administration would go for a narrower proposal.
Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who sponsored the White House-inspired bill, said it’s now up to the House to make the next move on immigration. The politics in the House are even more fraught than in the Senate, where Paul Ryan has promised only to vote on a bill that has the support of the president and the majority of the Republican caucus. Ryan has promised House conservatives to whip votes for a partisan bill from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which has no future in the Senate.
Without a clear path forward, at least one Republican senator has given up completely.
“There is no next move,” Kennedy said, listing other priorities from government spending to infrastructure. “I’m ready to move on. We just wasted a whole week.”
As for the DREAMers?
“I don’t know what to tell them,” he said.