It remains unclear whether Congress will pass legislation addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program ahead of its March 5 deadline, or even in coming months, as partisan divisions continue to plague both chambers.
The Trump administration announced it was ending the Obama-era initiative, — which extended temporary legal status to foreign nationals who illegally entered the country as minors — in September, arguing the previous administration overstepped its boundaries with its executive order protecting DREAMers. Despite having been provided a six-month window to craft a permanent legislative fix, lawmakers have struggled to come to a consensus on an immigration deal that can meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the upper chamber that meets the parameters laid out by the White House. While two federal courts have blocked the administration from rescinding the program — providing lawmakers with additional time to come to a consensus — members of both parties have said they are committed to finding a solution, but have acknowledged it’s been a challenge strike to a deal.
“We simply don’t know for sure other than the fact that the president has appropriately said this is a responsibility of Congress and not the executive branch. So we can’t hide and we can’t run away from this, and I am hopeful that we’ll do it this week,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said.
While GOP leadership in the Senate was hoping to send a DACA bill to the lower chamber before the end of Friday, the “free and open” debate promised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got off to a slow start early in the week, with Democrats refusing to agree to vote on an amendment introduced by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania pertaining to sanctuary cities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued by starting with the amendment, they were “getting off on the wrong foot,” alleging Republicans were beginning the debate with an issue that didn’t pertain to DACA or border security. Republicans proceeded to blast their democratic colleagues for playing politics after shutting down the government over immigration in January, questioning whether the party was more interested in turning DACA into a campaign issue.
By Wednesday evening, the Common Sense Coalition — a broad group of bipartisan senators looking to craft a DACA bill that can meet the 60-vote threshold — announced they struck a deal that would provide $25 billion for border security and provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, but limited DREAMers from sponsor citizenship for their parents. But the bill faces an unlikely path to passage in the House, and fails to meet the requirements laid out by the administration as it keeps the lottery system intact.
“I’m sure it was what that group could agree to, but they pretty much ignored two of the four pillars,” Cornyn said, noting even if it was sent to the president’s desk, it’s unlikely Trump would sign it. Senate leadership aims to vote on immigration proposals Thursday before they recess for President’s Day weekend.
While the upper chamber is facing serious challenges, the House faces its own set of challenges.
House Republican leadership began whipping a conservative-backed immigration bill Wednesday. The legislation, spearheaded by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, has a chance of passing the lower chamber along party lines, but is unlikely to make it through the upper chamber.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he’d like to see lawmakers complete their work on immigration before the end of March, noting Congress is most productive when given a deadline. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy –who has helped lead bipartisan immigration talks between chambers — said the court ruling provides them more time to work on a solution they are confident fully addresses the issue
“I think by this year– I don’t know we fall on just that March date, but, I mean, I want to make sure we get it right,” he told The Daily Caller. “You don’t want to have to come back to it.”
Members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) have amped up pressure on leadership to push for a more conservative bill, with HFC Chairman Mark Meadows telling reporters Wednesday its a “defining moment” for Ryan, arguing if the Wisconsin Republican gets it wrong, both he and the party will face consequences.
The North Carolina Republican — who is largely credited for leading the movement to oust former Speaker of the House John Boehner — said the powerful conservative group isn’t currently discussing attempting to overthrow Ryan, he said he believes leadership needs to step up on taking charge of the immigration debate.
“I said we need new leadership, which means a new lead here in the House. There’s no reason why we haven’t passed an immigration bill out of the House — we need to show leadership, new leadership in terms of this particular issue,” Meadows said. “For the Senate to be able to beat the House to an immigration bill is beyond comprehension.”