At the start of a Wednesday forum, sponsored by The Hill newspaper dealing with opioids (see below) one of the opening speakers was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Before sponsors delved into the topic at hand the reporter snuck a question, how is the Senate coming on the DACA debate? Senator Whitehouse described his feeling of frustration. He expressed his disappointment that Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) had already announced that the debate would be capped at one week. In addition, the first vote was on an assault on sanctuary cities. Although the comments came before real votes on full proposals took place, Whitehouse’s comments seemed to hit the mark.
Four different bills failed to get a 60-vote filibuster proof vote. The President’s four pillar plan (DACA, Border wall funding, family migration elimination, visa lottery elimination) went down in the biggest flames when it received only 39 votes. A bipartisan plan did get a majority of 54 votes but that’s not enough in today’s Senate. The President showed his power with members of his own party by aggressively fighting that bipartisan bill despite the high publicity around a fall meeting with Minority Leader Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) that they had all agreed to the general outlines of a plan. Then there was an early year televised cabinet room meeting with the President saying he would sign what Congress could agree to and that he would take any political heat in doing so.
The House is even more muddled with Speaker Ryan not wanting to offend a majority of his party although there are likely enough Republicans and Democrats who could provide a strong vote to protect DACA-covered immigrants. Ryan is unwilling to break the informal “Hastert” rule named for the disgraced former speaker who committed to never passing House legislation without a majority of his own caucus members first.
Now where on DACA protection? The best-case scenarios now would be for Congress to tack on to the next CR some short-term extension for a year or two. Despite the budget deal, current 2018 funding expires on March 23, with appropriations scheduled to be completed by that time. The number two Republican Leader Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) did not rule that out but it might take the resolve of facing down the President not to mention whether the House leadership would go along.
With the March 5 expiration date approaching the courts will play a bigger role. Two courts have blocked the President’s March 5 order and it is unclear how far up or how far out court action could delay that March 5 date.