Jennifer Shutt & Ariana Figueroa, Michigan Advance
December 15, 2023
WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. House headed home Thursday for a three-week winter break without completing work on several must-pass bills, but senators are now scheduled to return to Capitol Hill on Monday as leaders in the upper chamber and the White House look for an agreement on immigration policy.
The last-minute scheduling change for the Senate came Thursday afternoon, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he was adding a week to the calendar to try to unlock funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, potentially combined with new limits on acceptance of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“That will give negotiators from the White House, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans a time to work through the weekend in an effort to reach a framework agreement,” Schumer said. “It’s not easy to reach an agreement on something this complicated. This might be one of the most difficult things we have ever had to work through.”
Schumer said Democrats “hope to come to an agreement, but no matter what, members should be aware that we will vote on a supplemental proposal next week.”
Senate Minority Whip John Thune said Thursday afternoon “signs are encouraging,” but said lawmakers were still a long way from reaching a bipartisan agreement on border security that can pass the Senate.
The South Dakota Republican said even if a bipartisan deal is struck in the days ahead, GOP senators are likely to slow down final approval of the bill.
“Even if we had text by early next week, I still don’t see any way it gets done because we’ve got members who are going to object for various reasons and use all the procedural tools at their disposal,” Thune said, referring to specific language in legislation.
It also remains an “open question” whether House GOP leaders would bring that chamber back before the scheduled end of their recess on Jan. 9 to clear any bipartisan deal for the president’s desk, Thune said. The Senate had been expected to return on Jan. 8.
Progressive, Latino lawmakers raise concerns
Senate negotiators and the White House have tried for weeks to reach agreement on changes in immigration law that GOP leaders insist are necessary to approve more than $100 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
Progressive and Latino Democratic lawmakers have become increasingly concerned and frustrated about the direction talks are moving and have urged the Senate and President Joe Biden to reject major changes in immigration policy that mirror far-right goals.
Some of those proposals being floated include the resurrection of a pandemic- era immigration tool used to expel migrants and bar them from claiming asylum known as Title 42, and raising the bar for migrants to claim asylum by making changes to the “credible fear” standard.
Senate Democrats’ supplemental spending package includes $1.42 billion for staff hires for immigration judges, such as clerks, attorneys and interpreters and $5.31 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to expand border security, such as fentanyl detection, among other provisions.
But Republicans say that increase in funding isn’t enough, calling for a reduction in the number of undocumented immigrants entering the United States from Mexico.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday morning the emergency spending bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the U.S. border security needs to have “substantive policy changes at the border instead of just throwing money at the problem.”
“The Senate cannot claim to address major national security challenges without a solution to the one we are facing on the Southern border,” McConnell said.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead negotiator for Democrats on immigration and border policy, said that after the White House became involved, there has been some progress.
“We don’t have a deal, but we’ve gotten closer to it,” he said.
Murphy added that he’s not sure if the House will pick up the supplemental if the Senate strikes a deal.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday during the daily press briefing the president believes negotiations are “heading in the right direction.”
“We understand we have to find a bipartisan compromise,” she said, adding that the White House wants a deal by the end of the year.
Jean-Pierre also addressed concerns from Latino and progressive Democrats about agreeing to immigration proposals that are reminiscent of the Trump era.
“(The president) believes we need to fix what’s happening with the broken immigration system,” she said. “He’s willing to find a bipartisan compromise to get that done.”
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