Senate Fails To Advance Any Immigration Proposals

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, in a photo from September.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, in a photo from September.
Credit J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Updated Feb. 15 at 4:08 p.m. ET

The Senate failed to pass any immigration legislation before a self-imposed Friday deadline, leaving lawmakers with no plan to address the roughly 700,000 immigrants who stand to lose legal protections as early as March 5.

The defeat follows a rocky 24 hours of negotiations on a bipartisan bill that failed following a veto threat from President Trump. By a 39-60 vote, senators rejected a White House-backed plan that became a partisan lightning rod after Trump insisted his plan was the only one he would sign.

Ahead of the failed vote Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, implored Senators to vote for the White House bill.

“This is it in a sense,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “The only plan that can become law because the president said he would sign it. This is it. This is your last chance.”

Republicans abandoned the bipartisan plan following the White House veto threat. That plan, negotiated by a group of roughly 22 Republicans and Democrats, would pair a 12-year path to citizenship for all immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with $25 billion in border security spending and limits on which family members the beneficiaries can sponsor for citizenship.

The bill failed 54-45, with all but three Democrats voting in favor. Among those voting against the bill was California Democrat Sen. Kamala Harris. A large share of the DACA population lives in California and Harris was under intense pressure from immigrant rights activists to oppose the bill.

It is unclear if those currently protected under DACA will immediately lose legal protections if the White House repeals the program as planned on March 5. Court orders by a pair of federal judges in New York and California have blocked the administration’s plans to end the DACA program which means the government is required to continue processing renewal requests from people already enrolled in the program.

Senators frustrated

The veto threat and other White House intervention frustrated Democrats and those Republicans who helped craft the bipartisan bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was frustrated that the White House was relying heavily on hard-line immigration advisers.

“You’ve got the most extreme characters in town running the show,” Graham told reporters. “What do you expect?”

Trump had already thrown his support behind a GOP-written bill sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to give 1.8 million immigrants in the country illegally who arrived as children a chance to apply for citizenship. That would be in exchange for limits to legal immigration through ending the visa lottery system and cutting family-based immigration policies, which the president and many conservatives refer to as “chain migration.”

Trump said he would reject any bill that does not meet his four pillars: “A lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes.”

“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars,” Trump said in a statement. “That includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach.”

Bipartisan plan hobbled

The bipartisan legislation was released Wednesday night with the support of at least 16 Senators — well short of the 60 needed for it to pass.

The plan was written by a small bipartisan group including Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va and Graham.

The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said the legislation is a moderate solution but he does not think the bill can pass. Rounds told NPR’s Steve Inskeep he doesn’t think the Grassley bill, known as the chairman’s mark, can succeed either.

“I don’t think the chairman’s mark will receive enough votes from both sides of the aisle to pass,” Rounds said. “I think ours, if it had been offered last probably would have garnered more than 60 votes to move forward to be a vehicle to actually get something done.”

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a close ally of President Trump, told reporters he did not expect the White House to budge and support anything less.

“If you do something much narrower than what we’ve got proposed, you’ll be right back here in four or five years doing the same thing again with another wave,” Perdue said. “If you don’t break the chain migration issue, you’re going to be back here because you’re reinstating another wave of parents who will smuggle their kids in illegally.”

Many Democrats and some Republicans say they want to focus on granting rights to those immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought in as children. Roughly 700,000 of those immigrants stand to lose legal protections starting on March 5, the date that the White House has established for the beginning of the sunset on the DACA program, established by President Obama.

Some in Congress privately feared that Trump’s emphatic support for the Grassley bill would scare off Republicans who might otherwise support a bipartisan compromise. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says he will only bring up legislation that has Trump’s full support. Republican senators are unlikely to take a political risk in voting for a bipartisan bill if they believe that it is destined for failure in the House.

A 2013 bill to massively overhaul the immigration system passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but was never taken up by the GOP-controlled House in the face of fierce opposition from conservative hard-liners.

Tensions were high throughout the day on Wednesday as senators rallied around Trump’s demands. A visibly frustrated Grassley vented to reporters that Democrats needed to drop their opposition to the family-related portions of the bill and embrace the only offer Trump has embraced.

“The Democrats have been pleading for months and months and months for justice on this,” Grassley said. “Now you’ve got a compassionate president who has gone way beyond what they ever thought he would do. Why would they turn it down?”

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