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

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Deirdre Sh­es­green and El­iza Collins

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.




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