Immigration Talks Continue as Government Shutdown Looms

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

House GOP leaders worked Wednesday to find the votes among wary Republicans for a one-month spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend, while negotiations on immigration continued amid competing visions for a deal.

The government's funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and House GOP leaders plan to bring to the floor Thursday a short-term spending bill to keep the government running through Feb. 16. But the measure faces hurdles in both chambers of Congress and little time to clear them.

Continue Reading Below

In the House, many Republicans are frustrated that Congress has funded the government through stopgap spending bills since October without giving the military more money and flexibility. The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus bloc said that the opposition from many in his group of three dozen conservatives could derail the monthlong spending bill.

Still, many House Republicans expected the short-term bill would ultimately pass the House this week, potentially after some nail-biting moments of suspense.

"We always get there," said Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), before adding, "sometimes some of my friends want to make it more exciting than it has to be."

Meanwhile in the Senate, Democrats have been trying to use their leverage on the spending bill to secure an agreement providing legal protections for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents. Spending bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold only 51 seats.

Mr. Trump ended the Obama-era program shielding the Dreamers from deportation in September, giving Congress until March 5 to negotiate a replacement to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Democrats are reluctant to give up their leverage on a two-year budget deal without having secured an immigration agreement first. But Senate Democrats, particularly those up for re-election this year, may not want to risk shuttering the government in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) are expected to introduce bipartisan legislation Wednesday addressing the four topics Mr. Trump and lawmakers agreed to focus on. A key question is how many Republicans will be willing to sign on to the bill.

The Durbin-Graham bill would provide legalization for the Dreamers, with a 10-to-12-year path to citizenship. They wouldn't be allowed to sponsor their parents for green cards, but their parents would be eligible for three-year, renewable work permits.

The bill offers about $1.6 billion in funding for a border fence along the Mexican border, the amount Mr. Trump requested for this fiscal year, plus $1 billion for other border security.

It also includes an end to the diversity visa lottery, which randomly awards 50,000 green cards to would-be immigrants from underrepresented countries. Those visas would be used for other immigrants, including those losing Temporary Protected Status, as well as a new merit-based system directed at countries that are underrepresented in visa allocation. The bill would impose a modest limit on green card holders to sponsor adult children for immigration to the U.S.

But the path ahead for their bill was unclear. Mr. Trump rejected their proposal last week, in a contentious meeting in which he dismissed "shithole countries" in Africa, upending negotiations and diminishing prospects of reaching a bipartisan deal before the spending deadline. This week the White House boosted its demand for border security funding above the $1.6 billion the administration had previously requested for this fiscal year.

Other groups of lawmakers meeting to hash out an immigration deal, including one of four congressional No. 2 leaders, could tap elements of the Durbin-Graham bill, the product of four months of intense bipartisan discussions.

Republican leaders have sought to disentangle the spending and immigration fights.

"Good-faith negotiations are under way and to push that aside and try and jeopardize funding for things like [children's health insurance] and our military to me makes no sense," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) told reporters Wednesday.

In the House, Republicans said support was growing for a far more conservative proposal from GOP Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Michael McCaul of Texas and Martha McSally of Arizona that extends well beyond the four topics to which the Senate bipartisan bill is limited.

The Goodlatte bill would provide $30 billion to build a wall along the Mexico border and tighten border security, crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, and require employers to use E-Verify, which allows them to check prospective workers' immigration status.

It would also provide Dreamers three years of renewable legal status but not green cards or a path to citizenship.

"That's getting more traction," said Rep. Warren Davidson (R., Ohio), a member of the Freedom Caucus who said he was currently undecided whether to support the one-month spending bill.

Many conservatives have started urging GOP leaders to bring the Goodlatte bill up for a vote, but GOP aides believe it could fail, diminishing House Republicans' leverage in the immigration negotiations. The Goodlatte bill goes much further than Democrats want on wall funding and other provisions, dooming its prospects in the Senate.

Mr. Ryan told House Republicans Wednesday morning that they would start "listening sessions" for GOP lawmakers to learn more about the bill. That would enable Republicans to continue discussions about the bill without committing to a potentially embarrassing vote this week.

In a bid to build support for the one-month spending bill, GOP leaders included a six-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, a one-year suspension in the health-insurance tax and a two-year suspension of both the medical-device tax and the Cadillac tax, a levy on generous employer plans.

House Republicans predicted that Democrats would find it hard to vote against a reauthorization of the popular children's health program, but Democratic leaders were urging their rank-and-file members to oppose the bill.

Republicans are "just trying to box in our members," said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "Certainly it's a ploy." Mr. Yarmuth said he would oppose the spending bill and expected many Democrats to join him.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com, Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 17, 2018 13:03 ET (18:03 GMT)

Continue Reading Below