The Senate will finally start voting on immigration legislation today, with just one day left before the window for debate closes so that Congress can scurry home for its Presidents’ Day recess. And with not a moment to spare, a long-awaited bipartisan compromise bill has emerged, within shouting distance of the 60 votes needed to clear the chamber.
As New York’s Eric Levitz observed yesterday, the negotiations over the compromise showed how far the debate has drifted to the right in the last few months. The so-called “Common Sense” proposal, with sixteen original co-sponsors (including eight Republicans) includes $25 billion in border security funding (exactly the amount the administration has asked for) and restrictions on citizenship for the parents of Dreamers, in exchange for exactly the same Dreamer protections the president’s plan offers. Throughout most of 2017 this deal would have been considered a bit of a coup for Trump. Now it’s being attacked by Team Trump as unacceptable, as the Washington Post reports:
In an interview late Wednesday, a senior administration official denounced the bipartisan bill, calling it a “giant amnesty” that did nothing to secure the border, and vowed the White House would strongly lobby against it Thursday.
This is clearly the party line in the administration. In an extremely unusual move, the Department of Homeland Security issued an official statement attacking the Common Sense proposal because it “destroys [the] ability of DHS to enforce immigration laws.”
Trump personally went on the record yesterday endorsing Chuck Grassley’s proposal, which closely tracks the White House proposal released last month. He also gave a nod to the only proposal that’s more draconian than his own, the Goodlatte legislation, officially being backed by the House GOP leadership, which has no path to citizenship for Dreamers. And he also urged rejection of any proposal that didn’t include what he’s been calling “the four pillars,” defined as “a lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes.”
This mantra is the basis for ruling out the Common Sense bill, and even if it gets to 60 votes in the Senate, Trump’s opposition guarantees that Paul Ryan will not let it get to the House floor for a vote.
Optimists continue to hold out hope that Trump will show the sunny side of his highly erratic personality and at some key moment announce he’ll sign anything that can get through Congress (as he has done on occasion in the past). But it’s by no means clear anything like the Common Sense plan could get a House vote even if Trump were no longer attacking it; Paul Ryan has a separate deal with conservatives to promote the Goodlatte plan and oppose any vote on legislation a majority of his caucus opposes.
So a stalemate continues to be the most likely outcome of the current stage of the immigration debate, particularly since the March 5 deadline Trump set for resolving the status of Dreamers before DACA protections entirely expire has for the moment been suspended by the federal courts. It’s also possible that after more substantial legislation has crashed and burned some skinny mini-proposal could emerge to extend Dreamer protections for some specific length of time. But even that would be a reach if Trump’s position continues to be: GIVE ME FOUR PILLARS — TWO OR THREE WILL NOT DO.