Gardner, Bennet push Dreamer protections at onset of immigration debate, but can bill pass Senate?

DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators say they are focused on protecting Dreamers as the Senate begins debate on an immigration measure, though lofty asks from the White House and a host of competing bills from various factions of the Senate could make getting to 60 votes difficult.

Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) were part of the group that sent the first bipartisan immigration measure to the president for his review last month.

The two had worked for months with other lawmakers in a bipartisan fashion to put together a measure that provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, enhanced border security measures and contained the president’s appropriations request for a border wall.

But President Donald Trump rejected their plan, saying it needed billions more in money for the wall he has sought since the onset of his campaign. And other more-conservative members of Congress have pushed for more-stringent cuts to legal immigration, bringing Trump and the White House largely on board.

The debate happening this week in the Senate comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised senators he would bring an immigration measure to the floor for debate if Congress was able to pass continuing resolutions in January and February to continue funding the government.

But there remain many questions about what a final deal might look like, with Democrats and Republicans on different pages, some Senate and House Republicans not seeing eye-to-eye, and an ever-shifting framework from the White House.

“Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”

The March 5 deadline, which Trump created last year when he set the deadline and said Congress needed to pass legislation before then to restore protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, was also in question Tuesday, as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman won a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York blocking Trump’s order to end DACA on that date. It was the second time in a month that a federal judge blocked the administration from ending the program.

Both Gardner and Bennet were committed Tuesday to passing legislation to protect DACA recipients and other Dreamers who never applied, but in statements, both were uncommitted to one single plan.

Bennet said the most important thing to remember during the debate was the need to protect Dreamers, “who are about to lose their status because of President Trump’s decision to rescind the DACA program.”

But in his statement, he hinted that some of the more conservative proposals that have come along to fit more in line with what Trump has requested won’t do, and that keeping family-based migration intact was important—though he said he still wants a bipartisan solution.

“Their protection should not be contingent on dramatic changes to our immigration system,” Bennet said. “Instead, we must focus on providing certainty to Dreamers and keeping families together.”

Bennet was part of the “Gang of Eight” that passed a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill out of the Senate in 2013 with more than 60 votes. But the bill was never brought up by the Republican-led House. The other four members of the new “Gang of Six” – except for Gardner – also worked on the Gang of Eight measure.

The Senate will need 60 votes for another bill, and their measure will also have to pass the House in order to reach the president’s desk. Republican leadership in both chambers has made clear they want to pass a bill that the president wants to sign – not test the veto override process.

Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, told Denver7 as much Tuesday.

“Sen. Gardner wants an immigration compromise that can not only pass the Senate, but can pass the House and be signed into law by the President. If legislation passes the Senate but doesn’t go anywhere in the House – the job has not been done,” Contres said.

Contres said Gardner still supports the bipartisan proposal he, Bennet and the others came up with, saying that proposal “touched on the parameters that the administration said were priorities for them.”

After Trump rejected their plan in January, Gardner said the bipartisan group had given the administration “exactly what the president [had] requested.” But Contres said that Gardner was open to other proposals as well – which leaves the door open for him to support some of the more conservative bills. However, a bipartisan, middle-of-the-road proposal would likely be the only one that could get 60 votes, with Republicans holding a 51-49 advantage in the Senate and with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., out for cancer treatment.

“[Gardner’s] goal is to find a solution for Dreamers so he is willing to look at other proposals to get to that goal,” Contres said.

Exactly how many competing proposals there are in the Senate remains in question. There’s a Republican proposal that would allow for a path to citizenship for the estimated 1.8 million Dreamers that also includes border security measures and changes to the visa lottery and legal immigration systems, which could potentially be the most-likely to get support from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also unveiled a modified version of the bipartisan measure. He was part of the group including Bennet and Gardner who reached the bipartisan solution next month.

Yet Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, also proposed a version of the bill, which he said was the “best and final offer” and was based on Trump’s stringent requests to stem legal immigration and fund a massive border wall.

But that measure, from the Senate’s most hawkish Republicans on immigration, is unlikely to gain much, if any Democratic support.

The Senate will start introducing amendments Tuesday afternoon. McConnell has hinted that he’d first bring up an amendment targeting so-called “sanctuary cities,” but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to the idea, instead asking McConnell to address Trump’s immigration priorities first in a bill, then discuss and vote on narrower measures from other senators that address other immigration priorities posed by senators from both parties.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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