House Immigration Bills Are A Long Shot In the Senate

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The White House notched a policy win Thursday when the House of Representatives passed a pair of Trump-backed immigration enforcement bills, but victory could prove fleeting as the measures are taken up in the Senate.

The bills, which target sanctuary cities and illegal immigrants who re-enter the U.S. after being deported, are the first immigration legislation that Congress has advanced since Trump took office. While they were widely expected to pass the Republican-controlled House, the bills face a tougher test in the Senate because of the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold required to advance most legislation. (RELATED: House Passes Two Trump-Backed Immigration Bills)

If the 52 Senate Republicans want to move the bills to the Oval Office for Trump’s signature, they will have to persuade at least eight of their Democratic colleagues to break party ranks. That could prove to be a tall order given the recent history of votes on similar legislation.

“Kate’s Law,” one of the bills passed in Thursday’s vote, was taken up by the Senate last summer. Only three Democrats –Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — voted with Republicans, and the proposal failed to pass. A proposal nearly identical to the “No Sanctuary For Criminals Act” also stalled, falling seven votes short of the 60-vote hurdle.

With the possible exception of health care, Democrats have pushed back harder on Trump’s immigration agenda than any other policy area, and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez expects a Senate vote on the immigration bills to yield the same result as last year.

“To the extent that 60 [votes are still required], I would expect we’d be able to sustain,” he told Roll Call following Thursday’s House vote.

One development working in Republicans’ favor is electoral circumstances have changed since the last time the Senate took up immigration legislation. Next year, 10 incumbent Democratic senators — including Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly — are up for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016, and some of them may be willing to compromise on key aspects of the president’s agenda in order to shore up political support at home.

Some groups that advocate tougher immigration enforcement are cautiously optimistic that political momentum favors passage of Kate’s Law in the Senate. Dave Ray, director of communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said advancing the legislation will be a “heavy lift,” but that “it would not be surprising to see more Democrats cross the aisle.”

“With 24 House Democrats — even some from deep blue districts — voting for Kate’s Law yesterday, there is some optimism that it could break the Democratic blockade in the Senate,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “The bill is immensely popular with the public and the version that passed is slightly narrower in scope, which reduced some objections from the other side of the aisle.”

The “No Sanctuary” bill, on the other hand, enjoys far less support on the Democratic side — just three House Democrats voted for the measure on Thursday.

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