Four Senate immigration bills fail: How Grassley and Ernst voted

With less that three weeks remaining until the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program expires, the U.S. Senate voted today on four immigration proposals. Three of them contained language to protect “DREAMers,” who were brought to this country without authorization as children. No proposal received the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The only bill to fall short of 50 votes was Senator Chuck Grassley’s legislation, modeled on President Donald Trump’s demands.

Iowa’s senators have talked a good game about the DREAMers, but today Grassley and Joni Ernst rejected bipartisan plans in order to be rubber stamps for the president and immigration hard-liners.

Dylan Scott summarized each proposal for Vox. Democrat Chris Coons and Republican John McCain co-sponsored the first plan to come to a Senate vote: a path to citizenship for DREAMers and some border security measures, but no funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Only 52 senators voted yes (roll call): most of the Democratic caucus, plus Republicans Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Lindsey Graham, and Lisa Murkowski. (McCain was not present for today’s votes.) The 47 no votes came from Democrat Joe Manchin and the rest of the Republicans, including Grassley and Ernst.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey offered the second proposal, which did not contain a DACA fix. Scott explained, “The Toomey amendment would have penalized so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration policy, by withholding federal funding from those municipalities.” It received 54 votes, six short of the threshold to advance (roll call). All the Republicans present voted yes, joined by Democrats Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, and Debbie Stabenow. The rest of the Democratic caucus opposed it.

Next up:

The so-called Common Sense Caucus, a large bipartisan group led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), released its own outline. The plan had gained the endorsement of Democratic leadership and was technically sponsored by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The “Common Sense” plan would have:

• Provided a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children
• Offered $25 billion for border security
• Prevented DACA recipients from sponsoring their parents for legal status

This plan received 54 yes votes as well: most Senate Democrats, plus Republicans Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Flake, Gardner, Graham, Johnny Isakson, Murkowski, and Mike Rounds (roll call). The rest of the Republicans voted no, joined by three Democrats: Kamala Harris, Martin Heinrich, and Tom Udall.

Grassley’s office released his prepared statement opposing this bipartisan plan, which I enclose below. Among other things, he objected to language that could protect people as old as 43: “I thought this debate was about protecting young people. Young people, not middle-aged adults.”

Finally, Grassley’s proposal came up for a vote. Trump and White House officials had made clear this was the only acceptable plan for the president. From Scott’s report:

The Grassley bill would have:

• Provided a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children
• Offered $25 billion to fund a southern border wall
• Substantially curtailed family immigration and eliminated the diversity visa lottery program in such a way that would gut the legal immigration system

In a Senate speech on February 14, Grassley had argued this was the only idea “that could actually pass the House of Representatives and become law.” (Scroll down to read the full text of those remarks.) Ernst advocated for the proposal in a floor speech before today’s vote.

Just 39 senators supported the Trump demands (roll call): 36 Republicans including Grassley and Ernst, plus Manchin, Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp. The other 46 Democrats and fourteen Republicans opposed the deal. PBS journalist Lisa Desjardins quipped on Twitter, “IMMIGRATION SUMMARY: The only thing 60 Senators agree on is that the president’s plan should not become law.”

In a press release following the vote, Grassley commented,

“Today is a sad day for many Americans and for many dreamers who would have had a rare pathway to citizenship. We had the opportunity to pass a bill that would have provided legal certainty for 1.8 million individuals. It would have secured the border and focused enforcement on the very worst criminals, like sex offenders, human rights violators and war criminals. And importantly, it had the President’s support and could have actually become law. It was the only immigration proposal that met the four key pillars agreed to by a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers and the President. For these reasons, the Secure and Succeed Act was the right framework, which Senators would have been able to amend. It’s unfortunate that so many of my colleagues, when given the chance to finally give citizenship to DACA kids, refused to do so,” Grassley said.

Ernst’s office released the following statement:

“I am deeply disappointed our legislation did not move forward in this critical and timely debate today. This legislation provides a way forward for our DACA recipients, provides immediate and significant investments in our border, and it recognizes that you cannot view immigration in a silo – it is a bulky issue that represents many legal, economic, and security concerns. Many of these issues are deeply interconnected. Addressing DACA and the border without some of the other issues plaguing our system is a half solution. We must pass legislation that considers all of the serious and pressing issues in this debate.”

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Final note: none of this would be happening if Trump hadn’t blown up DACA last September. And President Barack Obama would never have issued the executive order establishing DACA in 2012 if Grassley and his fellow Republicans hadn’t filibustered the DREAM Act in December 2010.

Text of Grassley’s February 14 floor speech:

I rise today to express my frustration with the current status of the immigration debate in the United States Senate.

It amazes me that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle simply aren’t ready to have a serious immigration debate. They’ve been demanding to have this debate for months. They even shut the government down to get this debate. And now that we’re actually on it, when it’s time to put up or shut up, they’ve come up empty handed.

Despite having weeks to prepare, Senate Democrats are still rushing to put together plans. Let that sink in. Think about this for just a moment. The Senate Democrats recklessly shut down the federal government over immigration, and they did it over plans they still largely haven’t drafted.

That’s very frustrating, and it’s exactly why the American people no longer have faith in Washington. But even more frustrating is that for two valuable days they refused to allow the Senate to debate immigration measures.

Now I understand why the Democrats are afraid to vote on ending sanctuary cities—those policies are massively unpopular with the American people. Yet I can’t understand why Democrats refused for two days to allow us to debate those issues. That amendment would help us keep our communities safe from dangerous criminals. Who could be against that? Apparently the Democrats are, and they don’t want to help us protect hardworking Americans.

Aren’t enforcement issues part of an immigration debate? Isn’t border security more than just throwing money at infrastructure? Shouldn’t we be discussing how to reform our nation’s laws so that dangerous criminal aliens can’t inflict harm on innocent Americans?

I’m pretty sure, I’m actually 100% confident, the answer to those questions are yes. Those issues deserve to be discussed too. Americans like Kate Steinle, Sarah Root, and Jamel Shaw had dreams too.

If my colleagues were actually serious about debating this issue we’d be discussing border enforcement measures. Sadly, my colleagues’ plans that I’ve seen so far fall short of that goal. They’re all happy to throw money at the border, yet they refuse to actually give our law enforcement the legal tools they need to protect Americans. That’s a tragedy.

Worse still, none of my colleagues’ proposals are being developed in a way that can actually become law. Maybe for them, simply passing a partisan bill is enough. Leader Schumer said as much this morning. But that’s not enough for this Senator. This Senator actually wants to see something passed into law that will provide real protection to these DACA kids. That’s why I’ve introduced an amendment that could actually pass the House of Representatives and become law.

Polls show that the framework a number of us developed alongside the President is overwhelmingly popular. A Harvard Harris poll found that 65% of voters agreed with our plan, including 64% of Democratic voters. So despite the hyperbole you’ll hear form my colleagues, the President’s plan is not only popular, but again is the only plan that has any chance of becoming law.

It’s time for all my colleagues to get serious about fixing DACA. Stop posturing, stop showboating, and stop simply trying to pass a bill out of the Senate. Focus on making an actual law. If they focus on those things, then the choice for them will be clear. They’ll vote for the Grassley Amendment. They’ll back the President. And they’ll provide real security to DACA recipients and the American people.

Text of Senator Chuck Grassley’s February 15 floor speech opposing the Rounds-Schumer Amendment:

I rise today to offer brief remarks on the introduction of the latest so-called bipartisan proposal. There’s simply no other way to say it: this proposal fails to meet the mark, will result in a massive amnesty and surge of illegal immigration, and has absolutely zero chance of becoming law.

In my mind, the Department of Homeland Security has this one right. This bill will absolutely destroy our ability to enforce our laws, secure the border, and protect the American people.

It’s hard to decide where to start dissecting this ill-conceived proposal. But to quote J.R. Tolkien, I guess the best place to begin is at the beginning.

This proposal claims to have border security measures, but the simple fact is that it doesn’t. This proposal does something that Democrats and Republicans agreed last year isn’t sufficient border security: it simply throws money at the border.

Everyone in this chamber knows how hard Senators Cornyn and Johnson have worked on border security. Their hard work has shown all of us that border security, real border security, isn’t just about infrastructure and money. It’s about legal authority changes too.

Like it or not, the simple fact is that our current laws contain numerous loopholes that prevent our law enforcement officers from apprehending, detaining, and speedily deporting dangerous criminal aliens.

Professional staffers at DHS, not political appointees, all agree that we need these authority changes.

I have to ask my colleagues, what’s the point of throwing money at the border if sex offenders, terrorists, gang members, child molesters, and war criminals can continue getting in our country?

What’s the point if we can’t actually remove people who are entering illegally?

What’s the point if innocent Americans continue to be victimized by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants?

This bi-partisan plan falls miserably short of providing real border security, and does nothing to make Americans safer.

Worse than the border security provisions, this bi-partisan plan massively expands the number of individuals who are eligible for citizenship. The way this plan is written, more than 3 million individuals could become eligible for citizenship.

And many of these people wouldn’t actually be young adults or kids. The way this bill is written, people as old as 43 could benefit. I thought this debate was about protecting young people. Young people, not middle-aged adults.

This is clearly beyond the pale, and is just another example of moving the amnesty yardstick.

But the worst thing in this plan, the most egregious thing, is that it effectively suspends immigration enforcement until June 2018. Now think about that. Why would you suspend immigration enforcement at any time?

If my colleagues look on the last page of this amendment, it clearly says that any person who illegally enters our country before the end of June 2018 will never be a priority for deportation.

Let that sink in. The authors of this plan are telling everyone in the world, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, that if they get here before June they’ll never be an enforcement priority.

Isn’t that madness?

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why my colleagues would want to end immigration enforcement. What justification do they have?

I urge them, please come to the floor and explain to the American people why you want people who aren’t already here to come illegally. What reason could you have?

I urge all my colleagues to oppose this amendment. It just isn’t serious, and it will totally undermine our nation’s border security and immigration laws.

This should not pass, and it won’t.

I hope we are serious about passing something that can actually become law. And we can do it in a way that is sound policy and doesn’t encourage more illegal immigration.

  • Moving goal posts

    For a generation Republicans have all said, “I have no problem with legal immigrants. It’s the illegals that I oppose.”
    But now it is obvious–they have a problem with all immigrants. They took the Dreamers hostage so as to better block all other immigrants. That has failed so far.
    Now what will the Republicans do with the hostages they say they don’t want to harm?

  • Unsurprising

    You can’t trust republicans to honor verbal agreements, and the moment democrats caved on a government shutdown they lost all leverage to enact concessions. A lot of good people put their faith in the US government and are being betrayed in a terrible way.

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