Mitch McConnell is not going to let the immigration debate get out of hand.
The Senate majority leader on Tuesday announced that the Senate’s work on a solution to the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be limited to this week. McConnell said Democrats should have been ready for this week’s crucial test of whether the Senate can produce 60 votes for an immigration bill.
“Senators have had plenty of time to prepare. There’s no reason why we should not reach a bipartisan solution this week. But to do this, we need to get the debate started, look past making political points and focus on actually making law,” McConnell said.
Several Republican senators were under the impression last week that McConnell could allow multiple weeks of debate. That prospect seems to have faded, though, as senators race to submit their amendments to a blank immigration bill now on the Senate floor.
Two Republican amendments are expected to be ready imminently: The president’s immigration framework and a compromise plan from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that follows some of the contours of President Donald Trump’s vision. Senate Democrats are also considering whether to introduce a partisan Democratic bill, according to one Democratic senator, and several bipartisan proposals are under discussion. Flake is also expected to introduce a bare-bones amendment enshrining DACA protections for three years in exchange for some increased border security.
But Republicans have chafed at talk of a centrist proposal to protect people eligible for DACA offered Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The pair has yet to officially introduce their idea.
“A week is enough time. We can do this. And we should do it,” Durbin responded on Tuesday. “I’ve got everything ready. I can give them five amendments today if he wants them. And [McConnell] knows what’s in these things. It’s no secret.”
Durbin said he’s trying to fuse border security and protections for DACA recipients with some changes to family-based immigration. He said both Trump’s plan and the DREAM Act supported by Democrats will fail on their own: “It has to be something in between.”
Once senators in both parties produce some amendments, McConnell is prepared to hold alternating votes between Democratic and Republican immigration amendments, according to a Republican senator. That senator predicted none will get 60 votes in the current political environment.
“This is a very difficult issue. We’re all aware of that,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday. “We’re on the verge, it’s still hard. We’re not there yet, but we can get something done.”
McConnell is supporting Trump’s framework to cut legal immigration, provide $25 billion in wall funding and establish a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants. But the plan faces overwhelming opposition from Senate Democrats.
“I believe it deserves support of every senator who’s ready to move beyond making points and actually making a law," McConnell said. "But if other proposals are to be considered, our colleagues will have to actually introduce their own amendments rather than just talk about them."