Senate Leadership Cautiously Optimistic About Potential DACA Deal

WASHINGTON (CN) – Though Senate leadership of both parties expressed cautious optimism on Tuesday that lawmakers will be able to strike a bipartisan agreement on immigration in the coming weeks, they acknowledged clear hurdles to the talks remain.

The Senate voted to fund the government through Feb. 8 on Monday afternoon after spending the weekend negotiating an end to the short-lived government shutdown.

In exchange for supporting a short-term government funding bill to re-open the government, Democrats received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the chamber will take up legislation to address a group of people in the country illegally who were brought to the United States as children.

This group of people could receive protection from deportation and temporary work permits under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, an Obama administration initiative that President Donald Trump ended last year. The program officially ends on March 5, putting Congressional negotiators on a tight deadline to reach an agreement to maintain the publicly popular program.

McConnell repeated his assurance on Tuesday that an immigration plan will get a vote in the near future, though he noted there are many legislative priorities the Senate will have to address before the new Feb. 8 government funding deadline.

“If the government is open on February the eighth, we will have a fair and open process giving a variety of different points of view an opportunity to express themselves,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Though progressive groups blasted Democrats for acquiescing on the spending bill on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday the short shutdown boosted the prospects of an immigration bill passing the Senate. Schumer noted it would be painful for McConnell to break his promise of a vote on an immigration bill because of the program’s support within the Republican caucus.

“We’re a lot better off today when it comes to the cause of Dreamers than we were four or five days ago,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve gotten a commitment from Senator McConnell. Trust but verify, but he made it not just to Democrats but to a good chunk of his own caucus, so that means a lot.”

But Democrats still noted Trump will play a key role in deciding what immigration bill comes to the Senate floor and who supports it. McConnell has repeatedly said he wants the Senate to consider a bill Trump will sign, but Schumer said Trump’s position on the policy has been difficult to nail down.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is one of the key negotiators on the immigration plan, also expressed concerns about whether a deal that receives support in the Senate will be treated as kindly when it goes before the House of Representatives. While Democrats seemed confident in McConnell’s assurances of a vote, Durbin pointed out Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has given no such promise.

“If we are going to have a bipartisan solution, we need the leaders of the House and Senate to come together and agree that we have a path moving forward,” Durbin told reporters on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Republicans have their own concerns about the prospects of the immigration talks progressing.

Schumer on Tuesday confirmed a Politico report that he has withdrawn an offer to give more than $1.6 billion for a border wall in exchange for Trump agreeing to protections for DACA recipients. Schumer said the offer to fund the border wall was part of a package aimed at avoiding the shutdown altogether. When Trump did not publicly back the deal, the offer expired, Schumer said.

“He didn’t do that, so we’re going to have to start on a new basis and the wall offer is off the table,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s number two Republican who has also been involved in the immigration talks, said Schumer’s withdrawal of the offer hurts the prospects of a deal on DACA.

“You’re never going to get a DACA solution without both a plan and a way to pay for that plan on border security,” Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters Tuesday outside the Senate chamber.

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