In a resounding defeat after months of negotiations, senators on Thursday failed to advance a bipartisan proposal to resolve the future of millions of young undocumented immigrants, leaving talks seemingly back at square one.
A much-anticipated bipartisan deal that would have paired a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children with $25 billion in border security and some other measures failed to get the 60 votes necessary to advance legislation after furious White House opposition.
The vote was 54-45.
A competing White House-backed plan that would have also substantially increased federal deportation powers, heavily cut family-based legal migration and end the diversity visa also failed, 39-60.
The episode, coming at the end of a much-anticipated Senate week of debate on immigration, revealed that the White House was successfully able to kill momentum for a deal that had emerged out of weeks of talks by roughly 20 bipartisan senators -- but that it also had no ability to actually enact any legislation to achieve its stated goal of protecting the recipients of the DACA program that President Donald Trump is ending and enact border security measures with it.
Trump called the bipartisan bill "a total catastrophe," tweeting that "Voting for this amendment would be a vote AGAINST law enforcement, and a vote FOR open borders."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also derided the legislation, saying it "will invite a mad rush of illegality across our borders," and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made calls to lawmakers urging them to reject the bill.
And Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said on the Senate floor that the plan would be called the "olley olley oxen free amendment."
The legislation from a group of 16 bipartisan senators would offer nearly 2 million young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children before 2012 -- like those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- a path to citizenship over 10 to 12 years.
The plan would also place $25 billion in a guarded trust for border security, would cut a small number of green cards each year for adult children of current green card holders, and would prevent parents from being sponsored for citizenship by their US citizen children if that child gained citizenship through the pathway created in the bill or if they brought the child to the US illegally.
Senators peeved at White House
Senators who backed the immigration negotiations were unhappy at the White House's response.
The administration statements have riled up co-sponsors of the bill, who said the White House and allies have "lost credibility" by criticizing a bipartisan agreement.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and a sponsor of the bipartisan immigration amendment, said she has been disappointed with the White House's approach in the last several days .
"I fear that you've got some within the White House that have not yet figured out that legislation almost by its very definition is a compromise product and compromise doesn't mean getting four Republicans together and figuring out what it is that those four agree on, it is broader," Murkowski said.
"To now be in a position where we're going to be voting sometime today and to have the response coming out of the White House as it is is discouraging," she said. "Basically, everybody loses."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told reporters, "I'm looking for leadership from the White House, not demagoguery".
Graham directed a message to the President himself: "There's a deal to be had there, President Trump, just you need to lead us to that deal, you need to understand that there's nobody better to do this than you, but to the administration if you continue this attack on everything and everybody and make it a political exercise, we're doomed to fair and it is President Trump's presidency that will be the biggest loser."
Trump explicitly endorsed a measure from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, which encapsulates the White House's desired immigration results.
That bill includes a pathway to citizenship and money for security, but also significant limits to legal immigration, including family-based migration and the diversity visa lottery.
"If Dems are actually serious about DACA, they should support the Grassley bill!" Trump tweeted Thursday.
Murkowski lamented that the White House won't look beyond the Grassley measure.
"The White House has made its decision they say that Grassley is the bill they're going to support. Period," she said. "I think that's unfortunate because I don't think that Grassley is going to get the votes that it needs and as a consequence the bipartisan product might not get the votes that it needs."
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