Senators uncertain of what's next for immigration reform

Republicans insist border security be part of any deal.

January 23, 2018, 10:16 PM

— -- On their first day back at work since voting to reopen the federal government, senators spent Tuesday regrouping on immigration reform.

Congress voted to end the three-day shutdown Monday after Republican leaders provided assurances to Democrats that issues like immigration reform - especially the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients - would be addressed soon.

But the path forward remained murky Tuesday as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle couldn’t give details on what a possible compromise would look like nor was there clarity on who in the Senate was leading the effort.

“There’s a lot of good ideas out there,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is part of a bipartisan group of senators working on a deal, told ABC News. “There’s no base bill we’re starting with.”

At the same time, lawmakers appeared to have little appetite to force another government shutdown to get a deal.

“We’re not talking in those terms,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The current agreement funding the government expires Feb. 8 and there are just a relative few working days for Congress between now and then.

The House, which would need to approve any Senate deal before it goes to the White House, is not in session this week. And during the first two weekends of Februarythe parties hold annual retreats to discuss policy plans for the year, with Republicans meeting the first weekend and Democrats the second. “We ought to be skipping the party retreats and stay here and work,” Manchin said.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the uncertainty Monday morning.

“Nobody knows for sure that the Republicans & Democrats will be able to reach a deal on DACA by February 8, but everyone will be trying....with a big additional focus put on Military Strength and Border Security. The Dems have just learned that a Shutdown is not the answer!” he wrote.

Republicans did make it clear that border security needs to be part of any deal.

That demand comes after Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer withdrew his offer of billions of dollars for President Donald Trump’s long-promised boarder wall.

“I was encouraged when I heard Senator Schumer offer 25 billion to the President to deal with border security including what the president wants by way of infrastructure — that’s encouraging,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican. “What’s discouraging is now to hear him retract that offer. That sets back DACA a long way in my view.”

Schumer defended his move, saying that offer he made Friday was part of a package that ultimately wasn’t voted on in order to end the shutdown.

"The thought was we could come to an agreement that afternoon, the president would announce his support, and then the Senate and the House would get it done and it would be on the president's desk. He didn't do that, so we're going to have to start on a new basis and the wall offer is off the table,” Schumer said Tuesday.

Now that their full focus is on immigration reform instead of funding the government, senators are working on their next move.

Sen. James Lankford said he was at the White House on Monday to discuss the next steps forward in immigration reform.

“I don’t know that we have a certain direction here yet,” he noted. “That’s not set in stone but there’s a lot of commitment to do it, which is good.”

“I don’t know the answer” on where immigration reform goes next, Durbin said.

The number two Democrat in the Senate also addressed concerns that progressives were unhappy Democrats didn’t get a better deal from Republicans before voting to reopen the government.

“We ended up with a pathway on the floor with specific concessions by the Leader McConnell and now, for the first time in five years, we’ll debate immigration on the floor of the Senate. We know that it’s going to include DACA. That to me is a step forward. I wish we could have achieved more. But it wasn’t the end of the debate. It was the beginning of the debate,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reassured Dreamers on Monday: "I intend to keep my word” about bringing the issue to the Senate floor.

There is also an open question about who is leading the effort to get a deal. Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have held multiple bipartisan meetings. In fact, Manchin was off to call Collins to set another meeting after he spoke with ABC News.

But Cornyn and Durbin, as the number two leaders for their respective parties in the Senate, have been suggested by some members as being command central.

“I think everyone is involved but some of my colleagues today have told me they want Sen. Durbin and I to be the clearinghouse for suggestions and I’m more than happy to do that if it gets us to a result,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pushed for Cornyn and Durbin to take the lead. “I think a lot of members want to create a process where their ideas can go to be looked at. Partisan ideas probably aren’t going to make it. Bipartisan ideas need to be looked at,” he said.

So what will it take to get to 60 votes in the Senate – the number necessary to close debate and move to a vote on immigration reform?

“A little time and people working together like they are right now,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “But it’s a good faith effort.”

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