WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Thursday struck down four competing immigration proposals, ending a long-awaited week of immigration debate without passing a bill.
Thursday’s votes were the climax of a process Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised would occur in exchange for Democrats agreeing to end last month’s government shutdown.
This week’s discussions focused on legislation related to the group of people who lost protections from deportation last year when President Donald Trump ended the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
That program gave protections to people illegally brought into the country as children and is scheduled to officially end on March 5, though multiple federal courts have enjoined Trump’s decision to end the program.
On Monday, the Senate took the first procedural vote on an unrelated piece of legislation senators were expected to amend with a revised plan for dealing with the issue.
But the debate quickly fell apart, as Democrats objected to McConnell’s plan to first hold a vote on an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., blocking federal dollars from going to jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration requests.
Democrats said the amendment to defund so-called sanctuary cities was unrelated to the issue the Senate was meant to be debating this week.
Because of this objection, as well as delays in drafting legislation, the Senate did not formally move to the bill until Wednesday and did not hold votes on any amendment until Thursday afternoon.
Any amendment needed 60 votes in order to become part of the bill, but none of the four proposals were able to muster such support.
Lawmakers first struck down a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have given a path to citizenship for people who came to the United States as minors before 2014. The White House opposed the bill, which is a companion to a bill in the House, because it did not fully fund Trump’s boarder security request and gave a path to citizenship for an overly broad category of people in the country illegally.
Lawmakers similarly struck down Toomey’s bill by a 54-45 vote.
A bipartisan group of senators released a last gasp compromise bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Angus King, I-Maine, on Thursday, though they were unable to cobble together the votes necessary to approve the amendment.
The bipartisan bill would have given a path to citizenship for anyone who was brought to the United States as a child so long as they met certain requirements. The bill also would have prevented so-called Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship and give $25 billion in boarder security funding over the next 10 years.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said one reason for the bill’s failure was its provisions on immigration enforcement priorities, which the White House said effectively gave amnesty to a wide swath of people in the country illegally.
That bill fell on a 54-45 vote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., lamented the failure of the bipartisan proposal, saying the Senate gave into “demagogues,” including proponents of hard-line immigration policy within the White House.
“Everybody wants comprehensive reform for them but nobody else,” Graham, a proponent of the bipartisan bill sponsored by Rounds and King, told reporters. “So the left made it hard, but the White House’s positions from DHS were just really over the top.”
The final bill the Senate considered Thursday was also the only major proposal that came with the backing of the White House.
Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the bill tracked with Trump’s immigration proposals, giving a path to citizenship for people who received or were eligible for DACA in exchange for $25 billion in boarder security funding and fundamental changes to the family migration system.
The bill earned the least support of any offered Thursday, falling 39-60.
With the failure of the week of immigration debate on Thursday and McConnell’s statement earlier in the week that the Senate will not continue the debate when it returns from next week’s recess, lawmakers were unsure where the efforts to restore protections to DACA recipients go. Speaking on the Senate floor after the immigration votes, McConnell called the week “disappointing,” but insisted lawmakers should continue working towards a compromise on immigration.
Corker said lawmakers could consider a simple extension of the DACA program as an attachment to an upcoming government funding bill, though he noted the Rounds-King bill was very close to getting the support it needed to pass and could become law with some tweaks.
Coons also said the Rounds-King bill’s success as compared to the Grassley proposal, which had the support of both the White House and Republican Senate leadership, is a cause for optimism. Coons insisted harsh statements in opposition from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security were key to killing the compromise legislation.
“Our challenge in the next couple of weeks is to find a way to get to 60 on a compromise, bipartisan bill and to get the president to either agree that he completely owns this problem that is of his creation and thus we’re not going to be able to solve it legislatively, or to accept that he needs to let the Senate do its work and stop lobbying against a bipartisan bill that could have solved this problem,” Coons told reporters Thursday.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-S.D., said the House could take up immigration reform legislation, though Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has provided no such guarantees. Heitkamp also said the courts pushing back Trump’s deadline has lifted some of the pressure for lawmakers to act to give protections to the so-called Dreamers.
“I think the courts punted on the March 5 deadline, so I think it’s taken away some of the urgency on the March 5 deadline,” Heitkamp said. “So I think you’ve got that challenge.”