McConnell Sets Deadline for Ending Immigration Talks

WASHINGTON (CN) – As lawmakers try to strike a path forward on the debate over an immigration reform package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the Senate must wrap up votes on the issue by the end of the week.

“We have other things to do,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters Tuesday. “Look, this is an issue we’ve been talking about literally for years. Something passed the Senate in 2013, we’ve spent three months talking to the Democrats about this, there’s no reason in the world why, if there is a core 60 votes to support something, we can’t achieve it in the next few days.”

The Senate is currently considering an unrelated piece of legislation McConnell brought up to serve as a placeholder for an eventual immigration bill. Over the course of the week senators will be able to offer amendments that will replace the text of the placeholder legislation if they can muster 60 votes on the Senate floor.

But as of Tuesday afternoon the Senate had not yet voted to move to the legislation. Lawmakers took a procedural vote related to bringing the bill to the floor on Monday, but still need to take another procedural vote in order to be able to amend the bill.

Democrats could jumpstart those votes by allowing the Senate to skip over a waiting period included in the procedural step known as cloture lawmakers voted to invoke on Monday. The Senate is scheduled to recess next week.

McConnell attempted to schedule a vote to move to the legislation on Tuesday afternoon, to be followed shortly by a vote on an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would prevent federal dollars from going to cities that do not comply with federal immigration holds, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., objected.

Schumer later told reporters he did not want to move to the votes yet because Toomey’s proposal is not related to the core immigration issues the Senate must grapple with soon, namely boarder security and protections for people who are in the country illegally after being brought to the United States as children.

“We need to be focusing on making laws that deal with those two issues, not making a point, just like the majority leader said,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

President Donald Trump last year announced his administration was ending the Obama-era program known as DACA that gave protections from deportation to this group of immigrants. Trump delayed the program’s end until March 5, charging Congress with putting together a legislative proposal on the issue by that deadline.

Instead of going to the Toomey bill, Schumer suggested McConnell should bring up two proposals that he said mark the “bounds” of the immigration debate.

One of the proposals, sponsored by a group of Republican senators including Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, would give a path to citizenship for people who either received DACA benefits or were eligible but did not sign up for the program.

The bill would also provide $25 billion for border security measures, limit family-preference immigration to only members of a citizen’s immediate family  and end the diversity lottery program. The legislation tracks with an immigration proposal the White House unveiled in January and while it has support from Republican leadership, its prospects with Democrats appear slim.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., have also introduced an immigration bill that would protect DACA recipients from deportation, but their measure does not include immediate funding for Trump’s proposed boarder wall efforts. The bill is tied to a House proposal offered by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, that sports 54 House co-sponsors, but the White House has opposed the plan.

While Schumer said these proposals should get the first look in the Senate, he was not optimistic about either’s chances of becoming law.

“I don’t think either of them will get large bipartisan support, but it will give us an idea of the parameters and can set us moving,” Schumer told reporters.

But while Schumer said part of the delay in starting the immigration debate is because the Grassley-Cotton bill is not yet ready for a vote, Republicans expressed frustration that Democrats are not allowing debate to start on an issue that was the cause of a brief government shutdown last month and has been at the center of public debate for years.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, said lawmakers have had plenty of time to prepare their proposals for votes during this week’s debate.

“The problem is if you can’t get it done by now, when will you be able to do it?” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday.

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