Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says that if Democrats agree to stopgap funding he will allow immigration reform vote
Ben Jacobs in Washington
The US government shutdown edged closer to a resolution on Sunday night after a minor concession from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said he would allow a vote on immigration reform in February if Democrats agree to fund the government. However, one Democratic source cautioned that no deal had been reached.
McConnell’s proposal represented the fruit of a bipartisan effort among moderates in both parties to resolve the shutdown, which began at midnight on Saturday.
The shutdown was spurred by the inability of Congress to reach a deal to resolve the status of “Dreamers” – undocumented migrants brought into the United States as children. They had been protected from deportation until September 2017 when the Trump administration ended the Daca program, which had been created by Barack Obama.
Trump allowed a six-month grace period for Congress to give Dreamers permanent legal status through legislation. However, with that expiring in early March, Democrats, facing heavy pressure from immigration advocates, had pledged not to fund the government until a deal was reached.
McConnell’s proposal would allow the Senate to debate and vote on an immigration deal if a broader bipartisan compromise was not reached in the next three weeks.
Speaking on the floor, the top Senate Republican said he would push for a Monday vote on a short-term deal to fund the government through 8 February, as well as extend a popular health insurance program called Chip that provides healthcare coverage to nine million children for six years.
Republicans had used Chip as leverage in the failed vote on Friday night to fund the government for four weeks. They ultimately wooed four Democrats to support the proposal to fund the government.
A hardline stance on immigration has been a priority of the Trump administration and support for the popular health care program was a way to lure Democrats to cross over without making concessions on Dreamers.
However, four Republicans opposed the bill and it failed to reach the 60-vote supermajority needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans had expressed concern about the government being funded by a series of short-term bills since September as well as what they thought was inadequate spending on defense.
At least one Republican dissenter indicated on Sunday that he would support the bill. Jeff Flake, an ardent anti-Trump conservative from Arizona, said he would support a three-week funding bill after opposing the four-week proposal on Friday. In addition, Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who had been participating in the bipartisan talks, tweeted Sunday night that he was “encouraged” by McConnell’s comments.
Any immigration deal reached by the Senate would still need to be approved by the House of Representatives.
Mark Meadows, the head of the hard right Freedom Caucus, threw cold water on the idea that any Senate deal would bind the lower chamber. The North Carolina Republican told reporters that Ryan had to understand “the will of his conference and of the majority of the majority” should drive any vote on immigration reform.