McConnell: Senate Will ‘Try to Pass’ House Immigration Bill

GOP leader gives conservatives what they want, though the spending measure is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions following the weekly Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol.
National Journal
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Sarah Mimms
Jan. 15, 2015, 8:07 a.m.

HER­SHEY, Pa.—After hear­ing a week’s worth of com­plaints from his con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said Thursday that the Sen­ate will at­tempt to ap­prove a House-passed bill that guts Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions on im­mig­ra­tion.

Months after the pres­id­ent an­nounced his ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion to pro­tect mil­lions of il­leg­al im­mig­rants with­in U.S. bor­ders, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers have been cagey about how they will re­spond, rais­ing con­cerns among bor­der hawks with­in the con­fer­ence. But Mc­Con­nell af­firmed at a joint House and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an re­treat in Her­shey, Pa., that he will work to get the House’s bill—which passed that cham­ber Wed­nes­day—to the pres­id­ent’s desk. “We’re go­ing to try to pass it,” he told re­port­ers Thursday.

The House bill ap­pears very un­likely to pass the Sen­ate, where Mc­Con­nell will need to at­tract at least six Demo­crats to reach the 60-vote threshold to end de­bate. Al­though con­ser­vat­ives have called on Mc­Con­nell to bring the bill to the floor im­me­di­ately, he did not of­fer a timeline for con­sid­er­a­tion on Thursday. Fund­ing for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity ex­pires at the end of Feb­ru­ary.

Mc­Con­nell did not provide a path for­ward Thursday in the likely case that the House bill fails. Passing the House bill would “be our first choice,” Mc­Con­nell said. “If we’re not able to do that, then we’ll let you know what’s next.”

If the House bill can­not pass the Sen­ate, con­ser­vat­ives are wor­ried that Mc­Con­nell, who has vowed to main­tain fund­ing for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity, will pass a clean fund­ing bill without any lan­guage re­strict­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions on im­mig­ra­tion.

The Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund is already sound­ing the alarm, warn­ing in a fun­drais­ing email Thursday that Mc­Con­nell may hold a quick vote “so he can throw up his hands, con­cede de­feat, and move onto something else.”

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence Chair­man John Thune de­clined to say Thursday wheth­er the up­per cham­ber would pass a clean fund­ing bill for the de­part­ment if the House le­gis­la­tion stalls in the Sen­ate, but ad­ded: “We re­cog­nize the im­port­ant role that the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity plays in this coun­try.”

Mem­bers of the con­fer­ence as a whole are still dis­cuss­ing how best to re­spond on the is­sue, Thune told re­port­ers Thursday. Those con­ver­sa­tions will con­tin­ue dur­ing a joint pan­el on im­mig­ra­tion hos­ted by House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte and the Home­land Se­cur­ity chair­men of both cham­bers, Mi­chael Mc­Caul and Ron John­son, slated for 4 p.m. Thursday.

Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, out­lined the de­bate ahead of Thursday af­ter­noon’s pan­el. “None of us want to see DHS face any kind of a shut­down threat. Too im­port­ant,” he said. “But we also want to make sure we have done all we can to get the pres­id­ent to work with us rather than go around Con­gress and around the Amer­ic­an people through his ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions.”

For now, lead­er­ship is stay­ing mum on its over­all strategy.

“Clearly we want to be able to give our mem­bers in the Sen­ate an op­por­tun­ity to vote as the House mem­bers did on that is­sue,” Thune said. “There may be dif­fer­ent ways and ap­proaches to this is­sue that we can get the point across. We’ll see.”

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