The Senate’s much-hyped immigration debate is heading toward a megaflop on Thursday.
All three plans slated for votes are shy of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, likely leaving lawmakers with nothing to show for weeks of talks and Dreamers in limbo.
A bipartisan agreement unveiled Wednesday faces intense skepticism from the left flank of the Democratic caucus and hardening resistance from many Republicans amid a White House campaign to defeat it. It would give an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship while spending $25 billion on border security.
“It’s a pig in a poke,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a close Trump ally, of the bipartisan bill.
But Republicans also acknowledge a GOP amendment that would enshrine President Donald Trump’s four-part immigration framework, including cuts to legal immigration, is also short of 60 votes. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said that he could support Trump framework, but no other red-state Democrat has joined him.
The upshot is almost certain stalemate, despite long-running negotiations, particularly among the bipartisan group of mostly moderate senators.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a procedural motion late Wednesday to set up votes on four amendments to the Senate’s shell immigration bill: the bipartisan group’s agreement, the GOP version of Trump’s framework, a narrower plan with no border wall funding from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), and a sanctuary cities measure from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
The Republican amendment executing the White House’s plan is last in the lineup, but supporters of the bipartisan group’s proposal had hoped to see their amendment come last in order to corral the highest possible numbers of supporters.
The order of the amendments may turn out to prove crucial, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said. The Republican amendment executing the White House’s plan is teed up as the final amendment to get a vote, with the bipartisan group’s proposal set to come right before it. That bipartisan agreement counts eight GOP cosponsors and would need three more Republican backers — in addition to a united Democratic caucus — in order to win 60 votes.
Flake, a supporter of the bipartisan language, told reporters Wednesday that it "can get 60" but "I’m not sure it will."
The Trump administration stepped up its resistance to the bipartisan immigration amendment overnight, with the Department of Homeland Secuity releasing a statement that blasts it as "an egregious violation of" the president’s four-part framework. But the proposal also faces a tough path with some liberal Democrats.
After the minority met as a group to discuss its options late Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged that "we have a number of Democrats who do not like" key elements of the bipartisan group’s proposal.
Other Democrats "do not like limiting the opportunity for citizenship for Dreamer parents, and they’re unhappy with the wall" money, acknowledged Durbin. He has spent more than 15 years working toward a solution for the undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
Durbin is backing the bipartisan group’s agreement, despite its inclusion of family sponsorship limitations that some immigration groups view as too conservative.