Senate moderates reach immigration deal — but GOP opposition builds

A bipartisan Senate group has clinched a deal on immigration, though it faces an uncertain future as GOP opposition builds against any plan that deviates from President Donald Trump’s proposal.

The text of the agreement is expected to be unveiled later Wednesday, multiple senators said as they left a bipartisan meeting aimed at getting a consensus agreement to the floor. The accord would provide $25 billion for border security and a wall, a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants and restrictions on those immigrants’ parents becoming citizens, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"We can do what we’ve done for the last 35 years, just quit and continue this mess. Or we can make this a substantial down payment on fixing a broken system," Graham said. Asked about what happens if the president explicitly condemns the deal, he replied: “Then we won’t go very far, we’ll have three presidents that failed: Obama, Bush and Trump."

Senate GOP leaders have backed Trump’s framework that would include steep cuts to legal immigration. If all Democrats support the compromise — hardly a guarantee — at least 11 Republicans will also need to back it to reach the Senate’s 60 vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supports Trump, and whether he whips against the bipartisan bill will determine its fate.

"They don’t address two of the pillars that the president said he needed," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) of the deal. He said he didn’t know if the narrower proposal could pass the Senate.

The president himself urged senators to defeat anything that falls short of his bill’s four pillars: border wall money, a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants, cuts to family-based immigration and elimination of the diversity lottery.

“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars — that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is the lead legislative sponsor of the president’s proposal.

“It will never get a vote in the House, it will lead to the legalization of not 2 million but ultimately almost 10 million (via chain migration),” a senior administration official said of the moderates’ plan. “It’s a proposal going nowhere fast. It’s not even Schumer 2.0 — it’s Schumer 1.0.”

Those developments came as McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) set up the first amendment votes on immigration Wednesday morning and as Republicans lined up behind Trump. McConnell criticized Democrats for trying to find something better.

“No matter how long they spend in closed-door negotiations, they can’t change the fact that the president has spelled out a fair and generous framework that will be necessary to earn his signature,” McConnell said of Democrats. “These guys can’t take yes for an answer.”

As McConnell and Schumer lined up amendment votes, Schumer made a procedural move that could allow the bipartisan group to receive a vote on a plan if it is submitted as an amendment to the Senate’s blank immigration bill. He urged the Senate to come together to produce 60 votes before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program expires under Trump’s March 5 deadline.

“Democrats are focused like a laser on finding a bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate to protect the Dreamers. Several moderate Republicans are working towards that as well,” Schumer said. “The one person who seems most intent on not getting a deal is President Trump.”

Even as McConnell attacked Democrats and Schumer laid into Trump for his proposal’s cuts to legal immigration, the group of mostly moderate senators in both parties left a Wednesday meeting signaling they were prepared to release their compromise later in the day.

"I believe our group has come together on an approach," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters.

Leadership of the two sides were represented by Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), although lawmakers leaving the meeting were uncertain whether all participants in the meetings would ultimately attach their name to the still-forming agreement.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) predicted that the group would have a "sizable number of co-sponsors." He suggested that the Trump framework could come up for a vote first, given the likelihood it would fail to get 60 votes. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) added that his colleagues should "work as diligently as we possibly can today to get a consensus bill" but added that multiple options may yet emerge from the group.

Still, their time was running perilously short. McConnell has said he wants to debate immigration on the floor for just this week. And the Senate often leaves for the weekend on Thursdays.


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