Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday promised to take up an immigration bill protecting an
estimated 800,000 "Dreamers" from deportation and allow an open
amendment process if Democrats agree to reopen the government.
The Senate will vote at noon on a three-week funding resolution to end
the government shutdown that began at midnight Saturday. The legislation
includes an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Democrats have been pressing McConnell for a vote on the Dreamers legislation,
and it is unclear whether his latest commitments will be enough to win
With some Republicans expected to vote against the bill, nearly a dozen
Democratic votes will likely be needed to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle.
Senate Democrats and Republicans will try to negotiate an immigration compromise
before the pending stopgap measure would expire on Feb. 8, if that stopgap
If they fail to reach a deal, McConnell promised he will bring an immigration
bill to the floor in February.
But McConnell said his promise would only be good if Democrats agree to
reopen the government.
“Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill
before us expires on Feb. 8, so long as the government remains open, it
would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would
address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief,”
McConnell said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
program started by President Obama that
President Trump is winding down.
The GOP leader pledged “this immigration debate will have a level
playing field at the outset and an amendment process that is fair to all
sides,” he said.
Behind the scenes, a group of centrist Democrats and Republicans have been
trying to work out a deal on immigration.
Democrats leaving a meeting of moderate senators on Monday morning said
they are still discussing how to get a firmer commitment for a vote to
protect young immigrants in the country illegally.
"We just need a commitment on that that's firm, that we know we're
going to be on it, the question is how firm the commitment [will be]" said Sen
Tim Kaine (D-Va.) leaving the meeting in Sen
Susan Collins's (R-Maine) office.
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said they need a "real commitment" to bring up an
No Democrats said leaving the meeting that they are changing their votes.
Though when asked how he would vote at a noon vote on Monday, Sen
Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he thought that vote could be postponed if negotiators need
Republicans who attended the meeting said McConnell should have been more
specific with his promise to ensure Democrats vote "yes."
I do think it would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger,"
Collins told reporters.
But she also gave McConnell credit, saying the GOP leader "had moved
to accommodate the concerns that have been raised" about needing
a commitment on immigration.
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted McConnell will make a "firmer commitment when
it seems like it will matter."
"I think if Mitch were a little firmer as to 'we are going to
move to immigration. ... There will be a process where everybody will
be heard,'" he said.
Graham suggested that Democrats go to Senate Minority Leader
Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and tell him that they will vote for the continuing resolution
if McConnell will use more specific language.
McConnell has said he intends to take up an immigration bill if a larger
deal can't be reached by Feb. 8.
But Democrats are quick to point to previous commitments to GOP Sen.
Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Collins that did not come to fruition.
Flake, asked how Democrats could trust McConnell, noting that the GOP leader
was making a "pretty high-profile promise."
Republican leaders, however, said Democrats have no reason to be distrustful.
"I think they ought to believe him because he's a trustworthy,
honorable person. And I realize there's ... a trust deficit up here
generally. But I think one of the first steps to regaining that trust
is for the leader to make that commitment and follow through on it,"
said Senate Republican Whip
John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Cornyn said Democrats would not get a more ironclad promise.
"No, I think that's all they're going to get," he said.
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