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By Laura Litvan and Sahil Kapur
The Senate blocked a bipartisan proposal Thursday to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation after President Donald Trump’s administration threatened a veto of the plan he said would create a “giant amnesty.“
The 54-45 vote, with 60 needed, threatens to leave the Senate at a stalemate on how to aid the 1.8 million immigrants. Senators defeated two other immigration proposals minutes earlier, and now plans a vote on a separate proposal backed by Trump, which Democrats oppose.
In threatening a veto of the bipartisan plan, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement it would encourage “millions of additional minors to be smuggled into the United States” and is “dangerous policy that will harm the nation.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security also harshly criticized the Senate proposal. Trump’s criticism came on Twitter.
In return, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called Trump “obstinate” and said the president “has stood in the way of every single proposal that has had a chance of becoming law.” A group of Democratic and Republican senators agreed on the proposal Wednesday after weeks of negotiations.
Immigration is bound to be a major issue in November’s election, when all of the House and one-third of the Senate will be on the ballot. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, an immigration hardliner, lashed out at the GOP lawmakers who joined with a group of Democrats on the bipartisan measure after weeks of negotiations.
“Any Republican who votes yes on it should be concerned for their electoral futures,” he said.
The Trump administration was encouraging Republican senators to drop their sponsorship of the bipartisan plan. One White House official suggested the Republican sponsors may have been misled into supporting it. The official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity and refused repeated requests to be named, also attacked one of the bipartisan group’s lead negotiators, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, saying he’s been an obstacle to getting immigration legislation through Congress.
Graham on Thursday accused the Department of Homeland Security of interfering in politics in its statement that criticized the immigration proposal and said that it showed Trump’s staff isn’t serving him well. He’s previously described White House domestic policy adviser as Stephen Miller as “outside the mainstream” on immigration.
The bipartisan plan would give 1.8 million young immigrants a path to citizenship and provide $25 billion for border security. The separate plan backed by the Trump administration and Republican leaders would include those provisions plus other Trump priorities, including strict limits on family-based migration and an end to a diversity visa lottery.
The president wants to limit family-based immigration to spouses and minor children, in a policy that would apply to all legal immigrants, not just dreamers.
In a hardball tactic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky decided a vote on the GOP plan would come last. That would make it harder for GOP lawmakers who might be willing to back the more modest bipartisan measure, which was conceived by a group of senators that included eight Republicans. They wouldn’t be able to see if the Trump plan failed first and then move to the pared-down bipartisan measure as a fallback.
Sessions called the bipartisan plan a “mass amnesty” that “will invite a mad rush of illegality across our borders.” The Department of Homeland Security said it “would be the end of immigration enforcement in America and only serve to draw millions more illegal aliens with no way to remove them.“
Graham said in a statement that DHS was acting “like a political organization intent on poisoning the well.” He added, “Statements like this undermine confidence in DHS and make one question whether they can rationally engage with the Congress on this issue.“
Maine Republican Susan Collins, a leader of the bipartisan talks, defended the compromise plan at a news conference.
“This is the one and only bill that deals with immigration issues with broad bipartisan support,” she told reporters.
This week’s Senate action was intended to mark the first serious immigration debate in the chamber since 2013, when senators overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan measure providing legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants along with a $46 billion border plan. The House never acted, killing the effort.
All sides say they want protection from deportation for the dreamers -- who were brought to the U.S. as children -- but so far they can’t agree on how to do it. Trump seeks to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, as soon as next month. The program has shielded the immigrants from deportation.
The bipartisan compromise emerged after weeks of talks by about two dozen senators, led by Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. McConnell had promised Democrats a debate on immigration to help end last month’s three-day government shutdown.
The Senate voted first on a proposal by Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona would give dreamers a path to citizenship and require the government to implement a border security strategy by 2021. It failed to advance on a 52-47 vote. All of the measures required 60 to move forward.
Failing to advance, 54-45, was a bill by Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcers.
The bipartisan proposal was the third vote, and the Trump plan went last.
The GOP-led House is taking a different approach from the Senate. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said Wednesday that leaders are checking members’ support for a hard-line measure authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. It would allow the young immigrants, known as dreamers, to get only three-year renewable legal status. It would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and end immigration of extended family members, among other provisions.
“It’s not going to be as easy here in the House as it may be in the Senate,” said Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. Conservatives there see even Trump’s proposal as too favorable to undocumented immigrants over others who came to this country legally, he said.
—With assistance from Toluse Olorunnipa.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission
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