WASHINGTON — Now, with two government shutdowns behind them, lawmakers will finally turn to the issue that’s been at the center of their dysfunction for months: Immigration.
Expect plenty more fireworks.
House and Senate Republican leaders both say they will take up legislation to address border security and protections for so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
But while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised a free-flowing bipartisan debate beginning Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan has only said that he will bring up a bill that President Trump supports.
“I don't want to just risk a veto,” Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday. “I want to actually get it done the first time, and I think we can get there.”
His approach has drawn loud protests from Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who urged Ryan to guarantee an open debate on legislation — similar to McConnell's pledge in the Senate — during her eight-hour marathon House floor speech on Wednesday.
She opposed legislation to reopen the federal government after a brief shutdown Friday morning because it did not include protections for DREAMers. The spending bill ultimately passed the House with a 240-186, bipartisan vote.
"I’m greatly disappointed that the Speaker does not have the courage to lift the shadow of fear from the lives of these inspiring young people," she said in a statement Friday after the vote.
Of course, it is not entirely clear what the president will demand in an immigration bill. His public statements have embraced a wide range of policy options.
"I don’t think the president has any idea," said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "My personal opinion is he would much rather see us focus on a (border) wall, and he’ll use whatever leverage, and that's not happening."
Trump has said he won’t sign immigration legislation unless it addresses “four pillars”: legal protections for DREAMers; money for border security and a wall; changes to family based or “chain” migration; and an end to the diversity visa lottery program.
The White House released a framework last month, which was quickly shot down by liberals and conservatives. The proposal would offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers, cut legal immigration by 25% and include $25 billion for a wall along the southern border.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday warned that putting Trump's bill on the House floor means "no immigration bill and no help for the DREAMers.”
“It will lose Republican votes as well as Democratic votes," he said. "It won't pass in the House.”
Ryan also has to grapple with the conservative members of his caucus. Before he became speaker in 2015, members of the hardline GOP House Freedom Caucus say Ryan promised them he would not bring up an immigration bill that did not have support from the majority of House Republicans.
In September, Trump announced the elimination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to protect these immigrants from deportation, setting a March 5 deadline for Congress to address their status through legislation.
Legal protection for DREAMers has broad bipartisan support, at least in principle. But it has proven very hard to get an agreement on legislation.
The issue led to a three-day government shutdown last month when Democrats insisted protections for DREAMers be included in a short-term spending bill to keep the government running. The bill did not include DREAMers so Democrats blocked it; to end the stalemate, Schumer agreed to a deal with McConnell that called for the Senate to immediately take up DREAMer legislation if there was no broader accord by Feb. 8.
Lawmakers in both parties have been wrestling with how to address immigration and there are a variety of bills and proposals that span the political spectrum, but so far very few seem to be enough to get the president’s support.
In the Senate, McConnell followed up on his pledge to Democrats by putting the process in motion early Friday for a 5:30 p.m. vote Monday on a bill that is basically blank so the chamber can start debating and voting on amendments. The measures will have a 60-vote threshold for approval.
McConnell on Wednesday reiterated that the debate on DREAMers, border security and other issues will be "a process that is fair to all sides."
On Tuesday, he put it this way: “It will be an opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a pro-immigration Republican who has been working with Democrats to create a compromise proposal, said McConnell's concession of an open debate was "significant" because the issue is one the majority leader has been "loathe to address." McConnell also likely would have preferred to have party leaders negotiating a bill after the March 5 deadline, Flake said.
At this point, Flake told reporters on Thursday, it's unclear what coalitions will develop and which amendments will gain steam. He said he is preparing measures of his own — one comprehensive plan that would attempt to address Trump's "four pillars" in a bipartisan way and another, as a last resort, that would temporarily extend DREAMer protections in exchange for border security.
The open process “may not yield anything, and that’s dangerous in and of itself," he said. "But it may lead to something.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
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