The latest attempt at immigration reform, including protections to prevent “Dreamers” from being deported, collapsed in the Senate on Thursday as a bipartisan bill seen as having the best chance at passage failed to get enough support to advance.
President Trump had threatened to veto the bill — which shielded the young immigrants in exchange for $25 billion in border security — because it did not include the curbs on legal immigration he sought.
The breakdown in the Senate likely leaves the fate of Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children —in the hands of federal courts. Two judges have temporarily blocked Trump from ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on March 5. But Trump administration attorneys are seeking relief from the Supreme Court, which could announce as soon as Friday whether it will decide the matter.
Trump’s veto threat was the first of his presidency, a bold move against an effort that had been painstakingly crafted by a group of 16 senators — Republicans, Democrats and one independent — working for weeks behind closed doors to reach a consensus.
Trump said in a tweet shortly before the vote that passage would be a “total catastrophe,” in part because it did not include limits the White House wants on family visas and the diversity lottery.
The Senate voted 54-45 to advance the measure from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). But the bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed to break a GOP-led filibuster.
Three Democrats — Sen. Kamala Harris of California and the two senators from New Mexico, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich — voted against the measure, mainly out of a concern that its border security provisions went too far. Eight Republicans — those who were part of the bipartisan accord — voted in favor.
The White House and Republican leaders put their muscle behind a rival measure from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that would protect the Dreamers and provide border security funds, but also severely limit legal immigration in the future.
It also failed to advance, showing the limits of a Republican-only strategy. The Trump-backed measure drew less support than the bipartisan measure, failing 39-60.
Senators from the bipartisan group, disappointed that the White House and GOP leaders tipped the scales against their proposal, vowed to try again after Congress returns from a recess next week.
Rounds acknowledged that Trump’s veto threat hurt his group’s effort but said the White House may be willing to start negotiating, now that its own bill failed to pass. "We’ve always said we only thought this would pass out of here if the White House would come on board. I think they’ve put themselves in a position to where they can start negotiating."
A resolution, though, remains difficult, especially amid Trump’s fluctuating views on immigration and both parties seeking advantage with voters ahead of midterm elections.
Just last month, Trump told senators meeting at the White House on immigration policy that whatever bipartisan solution they could develop for the Dreamers facing deportation, he would sign into law.
But the president’s commitment proved fleeting. Though he had originally promised to help Dreamers, he ultimately was convinced by aides and conservative lawmakers to use the sympathy for Dreamers to exact broader limitations on legal immigration.
Trump’s harsh criticism of the Rounds-King compromise marks a hardening of his immigration position.
“President Trump has shown a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
Democrats slammed Trump for torpedoing the compromise bill. “The White House, with this take it or leave it position, is evidently more interested in hurting kids who grew up here than in creating jobs and generating economic growth,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) “I think this is a decision our country is going to regret.”
But the president wasn’t acting alone, as Republican leaders, who had promised a free-wheeling and open debate, threw their support behind the White House’s preference, making sure the bipartisan effort was hobbled before the final vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his leadership team appeared confident they could blame Democrats, after Schumer led his party into a three-day government shutdown to force the immigration votes, for failing to embrace the White House effort.
“The president’s provided a chance for these young people,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). ”It’s not Republicans’ fault.”
The Department of Homeland Security also launched a scathing attack on the Rounds-King bill ahead of Thursday’s votes, in a move that stunned some senators.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the department had “lost credibility” in acting like a “political organization” instead of offering constructive input.
“It seems as if DHS is intent on acting less like a partner and more like an adversary,” Graham said in a statement.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), often seen as a centrist on immigration issues, said he voted against the bipartisan proposal because of the changes it would have made to deportation priorities, requiring immigration officials to first deport convicted criminals, national security threats and recent arrivals.
Corker said he felt that would encourage more people to come to the country. “The prioritization piece in essence began the process of creating another Dreamer category for 10 million people. I don’t think that is what they intended, ” Corker said.
He predicted the Senate will still have to deal with the end of DACA, adding that he thought a long-term extension of the program could be included in the omnibus budget bill coming up in several weeks.
The votes Thursday showed how far the brief, but intense, debate this week has moved senators from their staunch positions.
Democrats compromised by providing Trump $25 billion for beefed up border security, well beyond what had been imaginable at the start of the debate when just $1.8 billion in border funding was on the table.
Harris called $25 billion for border security, particularly a border wall, a waste. “I recognize that my colleagues faced the impossible challenge of crafting a bill that could meet the White House’s unreasonable and ever-shifting demands," she said in a statement. "But regrettably this bill is simply not the answer."
Democrats also gave up efforts to provide legal protections for the parents of Dreamers, who in most cases violated immigration laws by bringing the children with them illegally into the country. It was a huge concession, especially as Dreamers have fought to shield their parents from deportation.
For Republicans, the willingness to reconsider DACA, an Obama-era program they railed against as illegal, is substantial. They have largely agreed that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the United States, and be able to pursue a path to citizenship.
Both the White House proposal, and the one from the bipartisan group, would allow the immigrants, after 10 years, to apply for citizenship if they are working and otherwise law-abiding.