DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators said Thursday they wanted to stay in Washington, D.C. and work to get their bipartisan immigration deal to the Senate floor, through the House and to the president’s desk—even as a very real threat of a government shutdown loomed hours away.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said he won’t vote for another continuing resolution to keep the government funded if it doesn’t have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections included.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said, however, he would support a stopgap continuing resolution in order to fund the government, but that his preference would be for Congress to stay and work on getting the immigration deal done.
The House of Representatives voted late Thursday to pass the Republican-crafted stopgap continuing resolution, which would extend government funding into mid-February and also includes a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
President Trump, after a confusing tweet early Thursday, confirmed that he supported the House GOP proposal, but most Senate Democrats and some Senate Republicans have balked at the House deal.
Bennet, Gardner, and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) released their bipartisan proposal to the president last week after four months of work.
The deal pairs the Dream Act, which would provide pathways to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children over either 10 or 12 years depending on their DACA status, with several border security measures.
Included in those measures are changes to “chain” migration programs; the elimination of the diversity lottery; $1.1 billion for surveillance, technology and infrastructure improvements along the border; and $1.6 billion for border wall planning and construction.
On Wednesday, Graham announced that four additional Republican senators—Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)—had signed on to support the bill, and issued a summary of the deal.
But President Trump has consistently shot down the bipartisan agreement over the past week after initially providing the group with some optimism. He now blames Democrats for a deal he says he doesn’t agree with and has made claims that he wanted billions more in border wall money in a bipartisan deal, which he said he would sign should one make it to his desk.
Despite the confusion with the president's stance, the senators have pressed on. On Thursday, Gardner and Bennet spoke to reporters for 20 minutes about what lies ahead for their deal, less than 36 hours before Congress has to come to an agreement to fund the government lest it be shut down.
While the two senators said they would vote different ways on the House continuing resolution that was sent to the Senate, both agreed that work will continue on their agreement even in the event of a shutdown. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signed onto the idea from Flake and some others of a few-day CR in order to get the deal finished.
“We should be here until we’re done with the work,” Bennet said. “I just don’t see why we want to have [the immigration] negotiation two weeks from now instead of now. And if we do it for another two weeks, then another two weeks after that, then another two weeks after that.”
“People can’t pack up their sticks and go home. They can’t go to their respective political corners and just retreat,” Gardner added. “They’ve got to stay in the Senate; they’ve got to stay in the House and get the job done for the American people.”
Both pointed to a measure they introduced last April—when the first of several budget showdowns under the Trump administration happened—in which they threatened to have their Senate colleagues arrested were they to leave in the event of a government shutdown. They said the threat still stood, though the legislation never went anywhere at the time because the shutdown never happened.
“Having sat through four months of negotiations, I have a pretty good sense of what the gives and the takes have been. I think Washington will always look for an excuse not to act. I think we should act,” Bennet said. “I think that we should figure out a way to get this deal done this week, and if we can’t do that, we should stay here until we’re done.”
Bennet said that President Trump’s recent tweets that Democrats don’t care about the military, regarding the shutdown and continuing resolution threat, were wrong. (“A government shutdown will be devastating to our military…something the Dems care very little about,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.)
Bennet said he agreed with Graham’s sentiments that Congress shouldn’t keep passing short-term continuing resolutions because they actually hurt the military.
“Because we can’t keep the government open for more than two weeks at a time, our Defense Department can’t fulfill the contracts it has to maintain aircraft to keep them flying,” he said. “And when aircraft are not flying, we can’t train the pilots that we need to be ready if there is something that we’ve got to do in the Middle East, or on the Korean Peninsula, or around the world.”
Gardner said a short-term funding resolution would be more beneficial for the military than an all-out shutdown, but said he also wanted a long-term deal.
“Passing with a continuing resolution—while certainly not a perfect solution—would prevent those devastating cuts from occurring to the military,” he said.
Despite the disagreement over the short-term resolution, the senators were united on their bipartisan work on the immigration agreement, and were resolute in saying the group was giving Trump what he’d asked for despite his claiming otherwise over the past few days.
“Let’s be clear: What we put in the bill was exactly what the president has requested,” Gardner said. “Exactly,” Bennet added.
“We put a figure of $1.6 billion in the wall. That was the president’s 2018 appropriations request,” Gardner said, noting that the group also included $1.1 billion in the agreement for technology, roads and security officers.
“It’s important to note that in order to get that budget allocation, [Trump] needs 60 votes in the Senate, so he needs Republicans and Democrats,” Bennet added. “And what we’ve said is not, ‘You get half of what you asked for.’ We said, ‘You get what you asked for: $1.6 billion.’ Which is based, I think in part, on what the recommendations were from people that actually work on the border for a living.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he was waiting to “figure out what he’s for,” referring to Trump, before moving the process along in the Senate with the bipartisan group’s bill, to which Bennet issued a strong response Thursday. He'd previously said he would bring a DACA measure to the floor this month were a bipartisan deal reached.
“I think senators here can stand on their own two feet and decide whether or not they think this proposal is the right proposal,” Bennet said. “I think that if they’re waiting for the White House to tell them exactly what they will take to settle the deal, I think it’s likely that they will wait in vain, and it’s likely that we won’t meet the deadline that we’re trying to get achieved.”
He and Gardner both said they believed their proposal was the right step forward to bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, and that they believed there was consensus among most in Congress that border security measures were needed along with protection for Dreamers.
Bennet said he probably wouldn’t have written the bill as-is on his own, but said that the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill he and the rest of the new “Gang of Six” members—save for Gardner—wrote and passed with 68 votes in the Senate in 2013 provided a good framework for this new agreement.
“And I believe, had we passed it through the House and had the president signed it, we wouldn’t be dealing with an awful lot of this stuff we’re dealing with now,” Bennet said of the Gang of Eight deal.
Gardner said that the bipartisan discussion was a chance to “build trust with the American people” and build a pathway to full immigration reforms.
“We can do this in a way where Republicans and Democrats give and take,” Gardner said. “And do this in a way that will result in a good policy so we don’t find ourselves here—in 10 or 15 or 20 years down the road—having the same arguments about the same issues, about the same challenges and why we’re in this current or crisis.”
The senators said they met Tuesday night with 35 Republicans and Democrats from the House who were curious about the proposal, and that they then met with the same group, plus another 15 people, in the Senate on Thursday meeting with the “Gang of Six.”
Gardner said he didn’t know what the “whip count”—the number of senators currently supporting the measure—was on the immigration deal Thursday, but said that all senators involved were continuing to talk to people and find out what their needs are in order to support the measure.
In the end, both agreed that working together on the deal was the best thing they could be doing for Colorado, and said they wished others in Congress would do the same.
“I just, for one, am sick and tired of the fecklessness of the way this Congress works, and I think that we should demand something better…[this is] the way this place ought to work all the time, and I think that’s why we’re going to get support for our proposal,” Bennet said.
“And I would reflect what Senator Bennet said. Colorado is seeing this slow-motion train wreck play out and what we’re trying to do together—Republican, Democrat, two senators for the same state. We agree on a lot, we’re going to disagree on things,” Gardner said.
“But the fact is we’re both here to do this work, to get our job done, to address a very serious immigration issue in a way that the president can support, can sign,” he continued. “We’re doing it together because this is what the people of Colorado sent us here to do. And I just, again, wish that more delegations across the country were having these same conversations.”
The House passed its continuing resolution 230-197 late Thursday, setting the stage for the Senate to decide what it would do either later Thursday or Friday.