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Senators say reconciliation delay won’t hinder immigration efforts

Durbin: Immigration remains 'one of the major concerns in this reconciliation bill'

Activists rally for immigration provisions to be included in the Democrats' reconciliation bill outside the Capitol on Dec. 7.
Activists rally for immigration provisions to be included in the Democrats' reconciliation bill outside the Capitol on Dec. 7. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Efforts to reach consensus on Democrats’ sprawling social and climate spending bill are likely to stretch into next year, but key immigration players stress the delay won’t hinder long-awaited efforts to enshrine protections for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who is tasked with reviewing provisions in Democrats’ $2.2 trillion reconciliation bill, has yet to issue her decision on whether Democrats’ proposed immigration language complies with Senate rules, stalling release of the final text of that portion.

Under the so-called Byrd rule, measures passed through reconciliation, which allows a filibuster-proof majority, must directly affect the federal budget.

After initially targeting a pre-Christmas vote, Senate leaders have signaled they plan to resume work on the bill in January.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, who is overseeing the bill’s immigration portion, said Thursday he hopes to return to the committee’s immigration work next month, calling it one of his key priorities for the legislation.

“I am focused on that as one of the major concerns in this reconciliation bill,” the Illinois Democrat said of the immigration provisions, noting his committee has so far presented three different immigration proposals to MacDonough. “We’re doing our best, making a good faith effort.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., another key immigration player, said he wasn’t concerned that delaying work on the reconciliation bill until after winter recess would jeopardize the bill’s immigration provisions.

If the bill’s vote is delayed until January, “we will take advantage of it by educating everybody about what it means and what the possibilities are,” Menendez said following a Democratic caucus lunch meeting Thursday.

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, struck a similar note of optimism.

“There’s a lot of support for immigration reform across the country, and with my Democratic colleagues in the House and here in the Senate, the parliamentarian has a lot of work in front of them, with all of the conversations that are taking place,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that there’s a delay in one area to prioritize another. The entirety of this package has to go through the process before there’s a vote, so I’m not concerned by that.”

He said he hoped to see more immigration proposals in the new year, calling the reconciliation bill’s temporary protections “the start of providing reform.”

Following some back-and-forth, the House passed a reconciliation bill in November that included temporary work permits and deportation protections for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country since 2011. The narrower language fell short of advocates’ demands for a path to citizenship, but lawmakers hoped it would clear the parliamentarian’s review.

[Temporary immigration protections for millions pass the House]

Those immigration provisions are now potentially on the chopping block in the Senate, where Democrats have also been unable to agree on a number of the bill’s provisions, including paid family and medical leave and the child tax credit.

MacDonough rejected Democrats’ first two immigration proposals that would have put millions of people on a path to a green card, determining they were not compliant with the Byrd rule.

It’s been more than two weeks since Senate Democratic staffers pitched the House-passed provisions to MacDonough, and she has yet to make her decision on whether they can be included in the Senate’s version of the bill.

[Democrats pitch parliamentarian on immigration relief]

Menendez had hoped to see the decision this week but said the parliamentarian is not working the remainder of the week while she undergoes treatment for breast cancer.

Senate Democrats are waiting to release the Judiciary Committee’s portion of the reconciliation text until MacDonough makes her decision about the immigration language. As of Thursday afternoon, 10 of the 12 committees – all except the Judiciary and Energy and Natural Resources committees – have released their portions of the reconciliation text.

Caroline Simon and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.  

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