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Lawmakers Seem No Closer To Immigration Solution As Debate Draws To A Close


The Senate immigration debate has ended in failure. Senators rejected every proposal put on the table to address the fate of those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA is the Obama-era program that offered temporary legal status to people who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump has ordered DACA to end on March 5. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is covering the immigration debate and joins us now. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: This was billed as an unusual opportunity to allow everyone to present their ideas in open debate. There was bipartisan agreement that DACA should be fixed. What happened?

DAVIS: Right. So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell setting up this debate last week said he was ready to let a thousand flowers bloom in the Senate. I think they planted the seeds and just three flowers ended up blooming. It became pretty clear about midway that they weren't making much progress towards this. Now, Republicans will say that they needed more Democrats to come and agree with them. Democrats say that President Trump really didn't provide the presidential leadership that it would take to get this over the line. You know, this is an issue that the president handed to Congress. He was the one that decided he was going to end the DACA program with this March 5 deadline. He - and he's been all over the map.

If you recall, he told Congress back a couple weeks ago that if you send me a bipartisan bill, I'll sign it. He rejected every bipartisan bill that was put before him. And in the end, the administration took a pretty uncompromising line, saying that their proposal that they put forward was the only take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

SHAPIRO: Well, you said at the end of the debate three flowers bloomed. What were they? What were their proposals?

DAVIS: So there were three main offers on the floor, and every one of them would have needed 60 votes - a super majority - to move forward. The first one was - offered a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people. So that's not just the people in DACA, which is about 700,000, but also everyone that would qualify for it. It did not include any money for a border wall. That was rejected. Just 52 senators voted in favor of it. There was a moderate coalition who put forward another bipartisan proposal - also included that path to citizenship but included $25 billion for border security but no limits on legal immigration. That also failed. It only got 54 votes in support of it.

And the third option was President Trump's plan that he had put forward - the path to citizenship, the wall money and new restrictions on legal immigration for families and getting rid of something known as the visa lottery program. That was also rejected. It only got 39 votes in support. So the only bill the president said he would support was also the one that had the least amount of support in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: Well, does this mean the end of the immigration debate in Congress?

DAVIS: It's really hard to know. John Cornyn, who's the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he did not anticipate any more floor time on immigration. But he has noted, as have other senators, that there could still be another bite of the apple. Congress still has to pass in March an omnibus spending bill. That's unrelated to immigration, but it's a must-pass vehicle, and it is seen as potentially a vehicle that they could include an immigration fix on to that. But it does seem pretty clear that if the Senate can't pass something and President Trump won't sign it, the House probably won't take anything up at all. So where we are right now is really unclear.

SHAPIRO: And what about the pressure of that March 5 deadline?

DAVIS: That is also unclear because there's been two court injunctions against what the president ordered. So senators say they have a little bit of flexibility there because the program is still being administered. Durbin - Dick Durbin, who's the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said if they do nothing on DACA, if there is no fix, if the program ultimately ends, means about a thousand DACA recipients roll out of the program every day, they lose their work permits, and the entire program would phase out over about a two-year period.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.