What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes
The Senate is barreling toward a showdown on the floor over immigration, with both sides digging in as they hunt for 60 votes.
The battle could come to a head as soon as Thursday, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging lawmakers to move forward quickly.
“At a minimum, under the regular order, we can make sure at least they receive a vote by Friday morning. I hope the Democratic leader will finally consent to hold these votes on amendments today,” he said.
McConnell has teed up four proposals: A measure from Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) dealing with Dreamers and border security, an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cracking down on sanctuary cities, a bipartisan proposal from the Common Sense Coalition and a framework from the White House.
Under Senate rules, the earliest the Senate can vote is early Friday morning, unless lawmakers agree to speed things up. No votes are currently scheduled.
To overcome an initial procedural hurdle, any proposal would need to get 60 votes, meaning the support of both Republicans and Democrats.
As of Thursday morning each of the four measures appeared short of that total, though lawmakers and the White House are scrambling to lock down support.
Here’s what to watch for.
How many votes can the centrist measure get?
The centrist group, led by GOP Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), is working to win over wary members on both sides.
Only eight Republican senators are on board with the proposal. If every Democratic senator supports it — which is not guaranteed — they would need at least 11 Republicans to get 60 votes.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters he is working to whip votes for the plan.
“We’re close,” he said on Thursday.
The proposal includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children, often referred to as Dreamers. It also contains $25 billion for border security and narrow changes to family-based immigration.
Several Republicans who backed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013 that was much more expansive, including Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Dean Heller (Nev.), have yet to say whether they will support the plan.
A spokesman for Hatch said he is currently reviewing each of the proposals but “wants to support a proposal that not only can pass the House, but that can be signed into law by the President.”
But Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), who also voted for the 2013 bill, on Thursday said he would vote against the bipartisan proposal, dealing a blow to the effort.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is actively lobbying against the proposal, saying it will incentivize more illegal immigration and increase crime.
In a statement Thursday, the White House said advisers would recommend that Trump veto the centrist bill if it reached his desk.
“This Amendment would drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law. … The Amendment would undermine the safety and security of American families and impede economic growth for American workers,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Underscoring the uphill path the amendment has, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) warned that some members of the Democratic caucus could also oppose the plan over money it contains for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and a provision that blocks Dreamers for sponsoring parents that knowingly brought them into the country illegally.
“I’m telling you, there are people with serious issues over this compromise,” Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said after a closed-door caucus meeting.
If the bipartisan plan falls short of 60, there’s a possibility that several Democrats —particularly those eying a run for the White House in 2020 — will end up voting against it.
How much support will Trump’s four-pillar plan get?
Trump’s plan, spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is widely expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.
If every Republican backed the measure, which appears unlikely, Grassley would still need to win over at nine Democratic senators to reach 60.
Only one Democratic senator, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), has signaled he could potentially back Trump’s framework.
“Everything I’ve seen in it I can support, but I know that it might be a bridge too far for some people on my side of the aisle,” he told reporters.
The bill, which mirrors the White House framework, includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people, $25 billion in border security, tougher interior enforcement and significant cuts to legal immigration.
The White House framework guts the diversity program, making up for the cuts in legal immigration by accelerating admission of people stuck in the green card backlog.
How many Republicans will break with the president?
One thing to watch for is how many Republicans vote against the White House’s plan.
With that vote coming last, many Senate Republicans might be wary of contributing to the defeat of Trump’s proposal, even if many of them would prefer the bipartisan approach. Winning significantly less votes on the floor would be an embarrassment for the White House.
It remains to be seen whether Republican senators who have been involved in the bipartisan talks, like Sens. Mike Rounds (S.D.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Collins and Graham, will support the White House framework if it’s the last chance for action on immigration.
Flake, for one, has said he can’t support the White House plan due to the cuts it would make to legal immigration.
Republican senators up for reelection may be especially keen to avoid a break with the White House on the issue, given how crucial Trump’s support can be in fending off a primary challenge.
At least one Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), appears dead set against all of the immigration proposals, including Trump’s. He voted against starting debate and says the Senate should not pass “amnesty” for Dreamers.
Will any Dems agree to Trump measure if it’s the last bill standing?
Republicans are preparing to dare Democrats to either support the White House’s framework or accept doing nothing.
Under McConnell’s floor maneuvering, Trump’s plan is currently the last of the four measures to get a vote — setting up a take-it-or-leave-it dynamic for Democrats.
But Durbin predicted the Grassley-White House plan will still fall short, even if nothing else is able to get 60 votes.
“I think the writing’s on the wall with the Grassley proposal. … Few if any Democrats will vote for it,” he said.
Republicans will likely put pressure on the 10 Democrats up for reelection in states won by President Trump in 2016, as well as Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who just won a seat from the Republican-leaning state of Alabama.
Democrats will have to weigh the White House framework against the possibility of coming up empty-handed and playing the blame game with Trump from now until November.
And Grassley, who has repeatedly lashed out at Democrats, said if they agree to give his plan an initial 60 votes they would be able to offer changes before a final vote.
“Here’s an opportunity to do something. We shouldn’t miss this opportunity. … It’s got the best chance of getting through the House of Representatives, and it’s the only one that you hear talked about that the president will sign,” he said.
If all of the Senate plans fail, it could give a boost to a more hawkish immigration bill in the House proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Still, it remains to be seen whether Goodlatte’s bill can pass the House. And even if it did, it would almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Senate, essentially ensuring a failure to legislate on DACA, at least before March 5.