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Key GOP Negotiators Doubt Immigration Deal Materializes This Week

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a key negotiator on immigration talks, doubts there will be some sort of deal this week, despite Democrats' saying they won't support a funding bill if it does not contain immigration provisions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a key negotiator on immigration talks, doubts there will be some sort of deal this week, despite Democrats' saying they won't support a funding bill if it does not contain immigration provisions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A key Senate negotiator and White House official on Tuesday expressed little hope for an immigration deal this week but nonetheless predicted that Congress can avoid a government shutdown.

“I think we’re optimistic that we’ll get a deal. I think this week would be fairly Herculean,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters Tuesday after a meeting with staff of the No. 2 congressional leaders.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, one of the No. 2 leaders, separately told reporters that he doubts an agreement on a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and other immigration matters would get done this week. Absent congressional action, DACA, which shelters young undocumented immigrants from deportation, will end in March.

“The staff met a couple of times, and we’re working on a meeting tomorrow with the principals,” Cornyn said of the No. 2 negotiations. “I think it is probably one of those things where nothing is ever going to really get done until the principals are negotiating face-to-face. That’s the next step.”

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Short also said he expected the No. 2 leaders — Cornyn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin — to meet Wednesday to continue the talks.

Democrats have been more optimistic about the prospects of a deal coming together this week and many have said one is needed for them to support a stopgap spending measure needed to keep the government open beyond Jan. 19.

“I’m not sure why funding our troops is tied to a deal for illegal aliens,” Short said, questioning Democrats’ position. Nonetheless, he predicted Congress will succeed in passing a short-term continuing resolution.

“We think we’ll avoid a shutdown. It’s important to avoid a shutdown,” Short said. “You’ve seen the president’s messaging about the need to make sure that our troops are funded, and I’ll think you’ll continue to see him make that case.”

Cornyn also said he did not anticipate a government shutdown over the status of the DACA recipients.

“I can’t imagine their 2018 Democrats would want to vote to shut down the government over that, especially when we’re negotiating in good faith,” Cornyn said.

Clock’s Ticking on Deal to Dodge a Government Shutdown

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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, one of the Democrats up for re-election in 2018, said he will vote for a continuing resolution even if there’s no deal on DACA.

Short deferred questions about what would be included in the stopgap funding bill to the House Republican Conference, which is meeting Tuesday evening to discuss their strategy.

Short declined to read out details of the immigration meeting with the staff of the No. 2 leaders, saying, “There’s been a lot leaked out of recent meetings so we’re probably not going to leak a lot out of what happened.” He appeared to be referring to a meeting last week in which the president allegedly used the term “shithole” in referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.

Since those comments were reported, Democrats have renewed calls for a “clean” DREAM Act to provide young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship. Short rejected that idea.

“That’s not what we’re looking at,” he said.

A bipartisan proposal from Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., can be used “as a starting point” in the No. 2 negotiations given that it attempts to follow the four parameters laid out during a White House meeting last week, Short said.

“I do think that that’s progress. I don’t think that’s insubstantial. I think that’s important,” Short said. “But I also think that in each of those categories some of the border security measures came with significant limitations.”

Cornyn had a different take, saying that given Trump’s opposition there is no way the Durbin-Graham bill is somehow going to become the template for Congress and the president.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also had some harsh words to say about the the Graham-Durbin proposal, calling it a “complete failure” in terms of meeting Trump’s criteria.

Specifically, she said it would provide about one-tenth of what the Department of Homeland Security has said is needed for border security. She dismissed questions about whether a “merit-based” immigration system, which Trump has called for, would not be race-based. Rather, it would be focused on “whether or not this person would be contributing to society.”

DHS submitted a detailed request to Congress of what it would the president believes is necessary in terms of border security, Short said, referring to a document that proposes a total of $33 billion over several years for border security, including $18 billion specifically for a wall.

“What we’re trying to protect against is sort of a one-year appropriation and then people walking away from that agreement,” he said, citing a 2006 authorization for a barrier along the southern border for which funds were never appropriated.

Another issue with the Durbin-Graham proposal is it does not adequately address so-called chain migration, or putting an emphasis on reuniting families in the immigration process, Short said.

“We’re looking to fix chained migration across the board. That’s what the president has talked about,” he said. “The particular proposal that was put forward dealt with chained migration for the DACA population. By definition, they don’t have — without permanent status now — the ability to bring family. So in essence the proposal in talking about limiting chained migration of the DACA population was only expanding chained migration across the board.”

John Bennett and Joe Williams contributed to this report.

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