With lawmakers in both parties unable to reach an agreement in negotiations in recent weeks on how best to deal with illegal immigrant "Dreamers" who were brought to the United States by their parents, the U.S. Senate on Monday is set to begin a freewheeling debate which could produce a compromise on DACA, Dreamers, and border security, or the effort could also run aground in the continuing political hailstorm on Capitol Hill that surrounds the issue of illegal immigration.
"It is time for Congress to act, and to protect Americans," the President declared in his weekly address on Saturday, as he again made clear his goals in any immigration bill approved by Congress that deals with the Obama Administration's DACA program.
Let's look at where this debate might go:
1. What does the President want? This will be an important part of the debate, because not only is it about what kind of bill can get through the House and Senate, but also, what is the President going to accept on immigration. He's sticking with his plan which has 1) $25 billion for his border wall, 2) end to the visa lottery program, 3) limits on family migration for new citizens, and 4)A 12 year path to citizenship for DACA recipients and eligible illegal immigrant "Dreamers," totaling 1.8 million. Mr. Trump reminded everyone of those parameters in this weekend White House video:
2. This is definitely a unique Senate debate. The bill that is coming to the Senate floor Monday evening doesn't have one word in it about immigration - it's actually about health care - but it will be the 'vehicle' for the immigration debate. The floor will be wide open to amendments from both sides, and we should have votes along the way about a series of key immigration issues. Because the House bill amends the Internal Revenue Code, Senators can add provisions dealing with immigration fees, spending and more - so there will be no limits, and no questions about the procedure involved in amending what's known as the "Broader Options for Americans Act," H.R. 2579. And please don't write to tell me this runs against the Constitution. It doesn't.
3. More conservative Republicans stake out their position. On Sunday evening, a group of GOP Senators issued their own immigration plan - much like the one set out by President Trump. It starts with $25 billion for increased border security, and includes everything else - and more - pushed by the President. "It's the only solution that fully addresses the four pillars of his framework," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). But can this plan muster a majority on the Senate floor? I'm not so sure about that. And getting to 60 votes seems almost impossible.
4. Democrats have a different map for this debate. While conservatives stress items which reach into broader immigration reform, Democrats would like to approve just one, narrow item - the Dream Act - and end this debate. "Senator McConnell has guaranteed a fair and open process for Senators to finally act to protect Dreamers, and I am ready for that fight," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has led Democratic efforts in the Senate on DACA. The Dream Act would allow illegal immigrant "Dreamers" to go to college and serve in the U.S. military as a way of gaining legal status, and then citizenship. Can that get a majority in the Senate? I'm not so sure about it. We'll see. And getting to 60 votes? That is tricky as well.
5. There is no guarantee of success. I really believe this point must be stressed as the debate begins in the U.S. Senate - it might be that nothing is approved. Immigration has been a very controversial issue for years. Democrats and Republicans are not only divided - but bitterly divided on some of the key issues. And while some Republicans are ready to vote for a solution on DACA, there is also a big chunk of the party - backed by many on conservative talk radio - who are ready to highlight their opposition to anything that looks like 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants. Just because this bill is coming to the Senate floor doesn't mean a compromise will emerge. And don't forget, no matter what you believe, you will need 60 votes in order to get something through the Senate - a point that the Senate Majority Leader made last week.
6. Will the President compromise? Not only is compromise needed in the Congress, but it might be necessary for the President as well. The issue is simple - are any of those items the President wants - border wall, family migration limits, and ending the visa lottery - would he drop any of those along the way to get a deal on DACA? It's clear that the President wants to send a message that the answer to that question is, 'no.' But just like Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate for what they want to do, neither do Republicans and Mr. Trump.