More than 30 senators join push for immigration deal

More than 30 senators — about a third of the entire Senate — met late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the outlines of an immigration deal before a March 5 deadline for hundreds of thousands of immigrants facing deportation.

The senators huddled shortly before President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: If there’s no wall, there’s no DACA fix Trump appears to call out Samsung over missing FBI text messages Trump Commerce pick told lawmakers he would look at reversing Obama move on internet oversight: report MORE announced he would be willing to create a 10- to 12-year-long path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients in exchange for $25 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The White House announced it would unveil a more detailed framework for immigration reform on Monday.

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Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump: If there’s no wall, there’s no DACA fix Chuck Schumer’s deal with the devil Americans are catching on to Dems’ tax bill smear campaign MORE (N.Y.) told Trump in a one-on-one meeting Friday that he would be willing to put $25 billion for the border wall “on the table” for negotiation.

But Schumer later rescinded the offer after Trump refused to negotiate with him during a government shutdown triggered by a fight over immigration.

That put negotiations in limbo until senators met Wednesday to put the talks back on track.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer warns McConnell against immigration ‘breach of trust’ Senate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight Overnight Health Care: Congress funds children’s health program after four-month delay | PhRMA ups lobbying in Trump’s first year | Collins ‘optimistic’ ObamaCare fixes will pass MORE (Maine) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems sour on shutdown tactics Trump action on tariffs triggers GOP alarm Senate faces difficult path to immigration deal MORE (R-S.C.) hosted Wednesday’s session, which was so large that it was held in the Senate Armed Services Committee room in the Russell Building. 

Collins has seen her influence grow since her party lost the Alabama Senate seat in December.

Other Republicans who attended included Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate faces difficult path to immigration deal Emboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor Gorsuch has dinner at GOP senator’s home MORE (Texas), Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGorsuch has dinner at GOP senator’s home Senate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight Senator using ‘talking stick’ breaks Collins’ glass elephant during shutdown talks: reports MORE (Tenn.), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump talks immigration with Joe Manchin, Doug Jones Congress looks for way out of government shutdown Hopes fade as shutdown clock ticks down MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate faces difficult path to immigration deal Trump’s former chemical safety nominee leaving EPA Trump talks immigration with Joe Manchin, Doug Jones MORE (N.C.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRepublicans divided over shorter stopgap funding bill Live coverage: Federal government on brink of shutdown Blame game ramps up as shutdown nears MORE (Kan.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenators get classified briefing on America’s nuclear arsenal Week ahead: Lawmakers struggle to find path on defense spending Republicans divided over shorter stopgap funding bill MORE (S.D.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate group scrambles for deal to end shutdown Live coverage: Government shutdown stretches into second day ‘Apprentice’ winner Randal Pinkett on Trump: ‘No question in my mind he’s a racist’ MORE (Ga.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight Winners and losers from the government shutdown Overnight Energy: Trump imposes 30 percent tariffs on solar panels | Zinke to push road through Alaska refuge | Supreme Court rules against Trump in water rule fight MORE (Alaska).

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Regulation: Trump’s former chemical safety nominee leaving EPA | Senate confirms Powell as Fed chair | NTSB ‘gathering information’ on Tesla crash Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller interviewed Sessions in Russia probe | Comey met investigators last year | Dems demand social media firms probe Russian bots | Missing FBI text messages anger Republicans Overnight Finance: Senate confirms Powell as Fed chair | Mulvaney declares ‘new mission’ for consumer bureau | Trump says solar tariffs will boost jobs MORE (R-Fla.), who was a driving force behind the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, also attended.

The majority of participants were Democrats, including many centrists.

“There were over 35 RSVPs. I think we had more,” Graham told reporters afterward. “I’ve never seen that many senators in a room on immigration since I’ve been here.”

A senior Democratic aide said the large number of Republican participants was a good sign of getting an immigration bill through the Senate next month.

“It shows there’s a lot of interest on their side in getting a deal done,” said the aide. 

Participants said the purpose of the meeting was to establish a process for moving immigration legislation in the next few weeks.

“We didn’t really talk about specific provisions but more about the process,” Cornyn told reporters.

“It generally was a very positive and constructive meeting,” said Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsLive coverage: Shutdown begins A Department of Energy foundation: An idea whose time has come We must reconcile privacy and safety in the digital era MORE (Del.). “We’ve got to get narrowing terms and define what it is what we can all agree on.”

“This was a hopeful initial conversation, not a line-drawing exercise,” he added.

At the same time, there’s growing skepticism that a dozen Republican moderates will be able to persuade the rest of the Senate Republican Conference to back the effort.

One GOP aide called the meeting “inconsequential.”

And even lawmakers at the center of the immigration talks are beginning to talk about a two- or three-year “patch” or “extension” to keep DACA program recipients protected from deportation but without a long-term solution or path to citizenship.

House Republicans are talking about pushing a conservative immigration plan sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHispanic Caucus: Goodlatte bill is the ‘mass deportation act’ Top committee Dems: GOP chairs trying to undermine Russia probe with FBI texts Emboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor MORE (R-Va.) that Democrats are already dismissing out of hand.

It would end chain migration or family reunification, the diversity visa program and crack down on employers who hire immigrants who are not legally permitted to work in the country by requiring them to use the E-Verify system. 

Several key players did not attend, such as Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonDems sour on shutdown tactics Senate faces difficult path to immigration deal Schumer comes under fire over funding deal MORE (R-Ark.), who has emerged as an influential voice representing conservatives.

Cotton helped persuade President Trump two weeks ago to oppose a bipartisan immigration bill that had been negotiated by Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems sour on shutdown tactics Senate faces difficult path to immigration deal House Dems furious with Senate leaders MORE (Ill.) and Graham in recent weeks.

Sen. David Perdue (D-Ga.), who also has been involved in immigration talks, did not attend either.

An aide to Perdue said he had another meeting.

Trump rescinded the DACA program in September, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children at risk for deportation.

He gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a solution. 

The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to give a broad swath of the Senate a forum in which to exchange ideas in hopes of coming up with a proposal that can win 60 votes — the required number — before the March deadline.

Cornyn and Durbin, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary immigration subcommittee, will vet the proposals before crafting a bill intended for the Senate floor.

“Sen. Durbin and I are tasked with the job of being the sort of clearinghouse for ideas so we can build from the bottom up a plan that hopefully can get enough support that we can get passed. But will also have to get the president’s support eventually because without his support I don’t think it will pass the House of Representatives,” Cornyn told reporters earlier in the day.

Cornyn said Democrats must agree to a multiyear plan to fund the border wall if they want a multiyear deal to protect DACA recipients from deportation.

Durbin said negotiators have yet to set a schedule.

“I’m going to sit down with Sen. Cornyn to establish how we start receiving suggestions and ideas from our colleagues. There’s an open invitation for them to join us in this and there are a lot of ideas,” he said.

The preliminary plan is to bring a bill straight to the Senate floor instead of going through the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration and crafted the comprehensive reform bill that passed the chamber in 2013.

“My assumption is this would not go through the Judiciary Committee. There would be a bill that would be agreed to on a bipartisan basis that would come to the floor,” Cornyn said.

Collins told reporters that different groups are talking among themselves to restart the immigration talks that stalled during a three-day government shutdown earlier in the week.

“Today is an opportunity to discuss a path forward and how we proceed to get to … a variety of bills that can be considered on the Senate floor,” she said. 

Collins and centrist Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump signs solar tariffs | Energy official say ‘bomb cyclone’ justifies coal push | Trump chemical safety pick leaving EPA Manchin tells colleagues he’s running for reelection: report Trump admin uses recent ‘bomb cyclone’ to push coal energy MORE (W.Va.) will host another round of bipartisan immigration meetings Thursday.

Senators who attended Wednesday’s meeting expressed optimism about the prospect of passing a bill through the upper chamber.

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