As Senate ‘DREAMer’ drama unfolds, these big players take the stage
As the Senate begins the politically charged immigration debate this week, nearly every senator will be jockeying for the spotlight, offering amendments and jousting with their colleagues. But the legislative outcome — if there is one — will almost certai
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Durbin has made the fate of the “DREAMers” a personal crusade ever since he was approached by an undocumented teenage piano prodigy in Chicago nearly 20 years ago. Durbin introduced the first bill to give the DREAMers legal status in 2001. Today, he’s the Democrats’ main negotiator on immigration, and he helped craft a bipartisan compromise that could be the basis for whatever passes the Senate this week. Protecting the DREAMers “is the civil rights issue of our time,” Durbin said on the Senate floor last month.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Flake is a pro-immigration Republican who helped force Senate GOP leaders to address the fate of the DREAMers. He’s also one of Durbin’s principal GOP partners in crafting a bipartisan immigration bill. If the Senate passes a bill this week, Flake’s fingerprints will be on it, even though he has already announced that he will retire at the end of this year. Flake also has been an acerbic critic of President Trump, blasting him for his anti-immigrant comments and his conflicting positions. “Trying to divine what the president wants on immi- gration, and on DACA, has been impossible,” the Arizona Republican said recently. “It changes hourly.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Cotton, an immigration hard-liner from Arkansas, and his views on cutting legal immigration have become increasingly influential inside the White House. Cotton is a key sponsor of the RAISE Act, which would cut legal immigration by half. Trump endorsed Cotton’s bill, even though it has zero chance of passing Congress. Cotton also has backed Trump’s immigration plan, released last month, and he co-sponsored a Senate version the White House proposal, which would cut immigration by at least 25% and grant legal status to 1.8 million DREAMers. Trump’s plan is “generous and humane,” Cotton has said, “while also being responsible.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
One year into his job as the Senate’s Democratic leader, Schumer led his troops into a three-day government shutdown over the DREAMers last month, which ended when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised Democrats a floor debate on immigration. Some liberal Democrats were furious that all Schumer got was the promise of a debate. But now that McConnell is making good on that pledge, Democrats could win a major legislative victory. “We can get something done,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “We’re on the verge.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Senate Republican leader is the reason this week’s immigration debate is happening. McConnell controls the Senate floor and has promised not to tip the scales toward any proposal — a reversal after the Kentucky Republican initially resisted demands for a free-flowing debate. Still, many Democrats deeply distrust McConnell. And on Monday, McConnell endorsed Trump’s approach to immigration, saying it had the best chance for passing the House and winning Trump’s signature. “I believe it deserves support of every senator who’s ready to move beyond making points and actually making a law,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
The Speaker of the House has no role in a Senate debate, but if the Senate manages to pass a bill, its future will be entirely in Ryan’s hands. He has been cagey about whether he will bring a Senate-passed bill to the House floor, particularly if it is strongly opposed by the most conservative faction of House Republicans. For now, Ryan can only watch the Senate debate and wait his turn on center stage. But no bill will get to the president without approval of the House, and Ryan controls that process.