The Senate’s drive to clinch an immigration deal sputtered to an end on Thursday, with a bipartisan and White House-blessed proposal both defeated and the Dreamers left in limbo once again.
It was a frustrating, if largely expected, conclusion to a much-hyped immigration debate this week that never really got off the ground.
And in a blow to President Donald Trump, the GOP plan to enshrine his four-part immigration framework came the furthest of any proposal from reaching the 60-vote margin needed for passage, failing by 39-60. A competing bipartisan agreement got rejected, 54-45, after a furious White House campaign to defeat it, including a Thursday veto threat.
“I think it’s safe to say this has been a disappointing week,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor after the failed series of votes.
In the end, eight Republicans joined all but three Democrats in support of the main bipartisan proposal, which would have given an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship while spending $25 billion on border security.
“It’s a pig in a poke,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a close Trump ally, said of the bipartisan bill.
But the amendment outlining the president’s proposal, which he made clear was the only option he’d support, lost 14 GOP votes while gaining support from only three red-state Democrats. The Trump-backed plan would have provided a path to citizenship for a similar pool of Dreamers but included cuts to legal immigration, along with increased border security.
“This vote is proof that President Trump’s plan will never become law,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “If he would stop torpedoing bipartisan efforts, a good bill would pass.”
The upshot is stalemate, despite long-running negotiations, particularly among the bipartisan group of mostly moderate senators.
Two other amendments were also rejected: a narrower plan with no border wall funding from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) on a 52-47 vote, and a sanctuary cities measure from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on a 54-45 vote.
The red-state Democrats who backed Trump’s plan were Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The eight Republicans who supported the centrist proposal were Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
McConnell and Schumer opened the day with a round of partisan sniping, signaling the probable failure of both the Trump framework and the bipartisan plan.
“Remember: Democrats wanted this debate,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “They shut down the federal government for 300 million Americans — unnecessarily — to guarantee we could have this debate at this time.”
Echoing conservatives’ complaints, the White House veto threat against the bipartisan agreement singled out its language directing enforcement officers, when it comes to the removal of undocumented immigrants who have broken no other laws, to prioritize individuals who arrive in the country after June 30, 2018. That policy would “produce a flood of new illegal immigration in the coming months,” the White House warned.
The Trump administration had stepped up its resistance to the bipartisan immigration amendment overnight, with the Department of Homeland Security releasing a harsh comment blasting it as “an egregious violation of” the president’s four-part framework that would create “mass amnesty.”
Graham, a supporter of the bipartisan proposal, slammed DHS on Thursday for “acting less like a partner and more like an adversary.”
“Instead of offering thoughts and advice — or even constructive criticism — they are acting more like a political organization intent on poisoning the well,” Graham said in a statement.
A DHS official said that according to internal analyses, the bill could actually give a pathway to citizenship for more than 3 million young immigrants.
The White House has been telling Republican senators that it expects the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling extending protections for undocumented immigrants under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The implication is that what is now an indefinite grace period would quickly disappear — and that Democrats would be without leverage and forced to accept more Republican demands in order to codify DACA.
The bipartisan plan also faced grumbling from liberal Democrats, who remained publicly undecided throughout the day on Thursday. After the minority met as a group to discuss its options late Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged that “we have a number of Democrats who do not like” key elements of the bipartisan group’s proposal.
Other Democrats “do not like limiting the opportunity for citizenship for Dreamer parents, and they’re unhappy with the wall” money, acknowledged Durbin, who has spent more than 15 years working toward a solution for the Dreamer population.
Still, only three Democrats ultimately voted against it: Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, all of whom cited the hefty infusion for Trump’s border wall in explaining their “no” votes.
Flake, a supporter of the bipartisan language, acknowledged the plan might still fall short even as Democratic leaders won over many of their skeptics. It “can get 60,” he told reporters Wednesday, but “I’m not sure it will.”
Matthew Nussbaum contributed to this report.
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