WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of six senators have reached a deal on an immigration bill and are shopping the proposal to their colleagues and the White House, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham told reporters Thursday.
The South Carolina Republican noted it addresses the four key areas agreed upon during a meeting with a larger bipartisan group of lawmakers who met at the White House Tuesday.
“We’re sharing with colleagues that it deals with all the four areas that Kevin McCarthy outlined — border security, DACA, chain migration and the diversity lottery,” Graham said. “The president challenged that group to come up with an idea, we have an idea, it’s bipartisan.”
The group — which includes Graham, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey — are looking to release legislative text in the coming days.
“You know, we’ve got this bipartisan group, and we’re at a deal,” Flake told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Graham said “they have no deal with the president” on the legislation, but are hoping to garner additional support for the measure as they share the details of the plan with fellow lawmakers.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas — one of the four principal negotiators in the deal alongside McCarthy, Durbin and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland — said members of both parties are committed to finding a legislative fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama-era initiative that extended temporary legal status to foreign nationals who illegally entered the country as minors — but noted the group of six’s bill won’t necessarily be the route the upper chamber opts to take on immigration reform.
“We’re working as hard as we can — I think the meeting at the White House today was pretty important because I think the president made clear that this is not going to be just some agreement among a small handful of people,” he told reporters Thursday. “This is going to have to have broader acceptance.”
While Graham said he hoped the deal would help bring Congress closer to a broader agreement, Cornyn said he and the president are looking to use a more inclusive process while working on immigration reform.
“I haven’t seen their agreement — and how do six people bind the other 94 in the Senate — I don’t get that,” he continued. “I think their hope was that they would get the president sign off and then everybody would fall the line, but the president made clear to me on the phone just about less than an hour ago, that he wasn’t willing to do that.”
GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a hardliner on immigration, blasted the Flake group’s proposal referring to it as “a joke” for not taking a strong enough stance on border security.
A number of top Democrats are calling for a deal in DACA to be reached before they agree to vote for a must-pass government funding bill.
While Congress faces a Jan. 19 deadline to pass a measure to keep the government funded, Flake said he’s not confident the immigration bill will pass by the end of next week. Lawmakers have floated passing a short-term spending bill to provide additional time for negotiations. Republicans are pushing for the DACA measure to be passed separately from the spending bill.
“I have a hard time seeing it done by the 19th, but the commitment from our majority leader [Mitch McConnell] was to get a bill on the floor by the end of the month,” Flake said. “We need some runway between then and March 5.”