After months of frenzied negotiations, talks on Capitol Hill on immigration policy were suddenly muted Tuesday, as lawmakers returned to face the continued controversy over President Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks and the looming threat of a government shutdown.
Despite continued efforts by lawmakers seeking a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, including the introduction of a new bipartisan bill, talks seemed to return to the drawing board in the wake of the President’s crude dismissal of the Senate “Gang of Six” bipartisan proposal.
“After the President pretty much besmirched so many Americans and says they’re from ‘shithole’ countries because they’re from Africa and we need more people from Norway, that kind of put a damper on things, yeah,” said Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison.
“This has turned into an s-show and we need to get back to being a great country,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- South Carolina, said during a charged Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.
“Close this deal,” Graham added, speaking directly to Trump.
Most of the effort is now being run through the meetings of the congressional No. 2’s — Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
But despite mostly staff meetings, word of progress was scarce, even as government funding runs out at the end of the week and Democrats have demanded a DACA resolution before another funding extension.
“Everybody’s still talking,” Hoyer said of the group’s progress Tuesday.
“We are working on a meeting tomorrow with the principals (members),” Cornyn said Tuesday. “Nothing is really going to get done until the principles are negotiating face to face. So that is the next step.”
McCarthy briefed his Republican colleagues at a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday night, lawmakers said as they left. But details weren’t fully discussed — McCarthy told his conference that the group continued to meet and work on the four areas laid out by President Donald Trump the week prior: DACA, border security, curtailing family-based migration and ending the diversity lottery. A bill from hardline conservatives in the House was discussed but not agreed to as the path forward, lawmakers said.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a narrow bill with some border security and a DACA fix. The proposal from Reps. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican in the nation’s largest Southern border district, and Pete Aguilar, the Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus whip, was introduced with 50 co-sponsors Tuesday evening, which the lawmakers said were split between Democrats and Republicans.
But leadership and the White House has thus far withheld any support for the bill, and it’s not clear how the rank-and-file effort has a path forward after Trump rejected the bipartisan proposal from Durbin and Graham.
“Well (conversations) continue, and there has to be something that the House, the Senate and the President can support,” said Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who worked in the group that developed the Durbin-Graham bill. “That was the goal all along and that’s where we find ourselves now. … We just got to keep doing the work.”
One of the biggest setbacks, said Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, wasn’t necessarily what Trump said in the meeting, but the fact that it got out. Diaz-Balart was in the meeting where Trump reportedly used the words “shithole countries,” but declined to discuss anything that was said in the meeting.
“It wasn’t helpful that we not only lost a few days, but that, look, in order to get anything (legislated)… you need to be able to sit down and have frank, sometimes difficult conversations without fear that someone will go out there and try to use it,” Diaz-Balart told CNN. “So here’s the question: Can we reengage?”
He remained optimistic it was possible, saying there was no other option.
“I think Kevin McCarthy has been doing a masterful job on trying to lower the decibels and move forward,” Diaz-Balart said. “And I think if we can get back to the negotiating table quietly, calmly, I think we can get it done — because we have no other option.”