McCon­nell says he’s open to an im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen­nifer Haberkorn LOS A NGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON – Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said Thurs­day that he was open to con­sid­er­ing im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion, call­ing it one of two areas of po­ten­tial com­pro­mise in the divided gov­ern­ment that rules Washington.

Other Se­nate Repub­li­cans, how­ever, ex­pressed much more skep­ti­cism about the idea, ar­gu­ing that any im­mi­gra­tion plan is all but doomed be­cause of par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

In an in­ter­view with a small group of re­porters in his or­nate office off the Se­nate floor, McCon­nell said he agreed with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that there is a cri­sis at the southern bor­der.

“It will not be solved sim­ply by chang­ing per­son­nel,” the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can said, re­fer­ring to the de­par­ture of sev­eral peo­ple from the top ranks at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity in re­cent days. “There are some changes in the law that we need to make.”

He did not of­fer pol­icy specifics. But his re­marks came as Trump said Wed­nes­day that Jared Kush­ner, his son-in-law and ad­viser, is putting to­gether an im­mi­gra­tion plan.

In the in­ter­view, McCon­nell also ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the Se­nate’s abil­ity to con­firm Her­man Cain as a mem­ber of the Fed­eral Re­serve Board, an idea Trump floated last week.

“Sev­eral of our mem­bers had strong feel­ings about peo­ple who have been men­tioned in news­pa­per ar­ti­cles,” McCon­nell said when asked about Cain, with­out nam­ing him di­rectly. “I’ve got my hands full on the per­son­nel we’ve al­ready got. Not to men­tion the ad­di­tional nom­i­nees that might come up.”

At least four Repub­li­can senators said they would op­pose the nomination, all but killing Cain’s chances. McCon­nell sug­gested the White House should consider whether nom­i­nees can get enough sup­port in the Se­nate to get through the con­fir­ma­tion process be­fore pub­licly float­ing a name.

McCon­nell’s re­marks came as both cham­bers of Congress left Washington for a two-week re­cess. When they re­turn later this month, Congress will have a three-month sprint to the Au­gust re­cess. Af­ter that, the pres­i­den­tial con­test is ex­pected to heat up enough to largely halt most major leg­is­la­tion.

Trump’s talk of an im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal marked the sec­ond time in as many weeks that the White House has floated the idea of a big leg­isla­tive ef­fort with few de­tails to back it up. But un­like the previous such call – on health care, which McCon­nell quickly and pub­licly panned – he did not dis­miss this one.

“We re­ally do need to get serious about this prob­lem,” McCon­nell said.

Any im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion faces steep odds. Law­mak­ers have at­tempted to pur­sue im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy mul­ti­ple times in the last two decades, al­ways end­ing in an im­passe. The dif­fer­ing views of the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House and the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate make the process even harder.

But McCon­nell placed im­mi­gra­tion in the cat­e­gory of po­ten­tial bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise along­side a pos­si­ble deal to raise lim­its on fed­eral spend­ing. The White House has op­posed the idea of rais­ing the lim­its, but the vast ma­jor­ity of Democrats in Congress – as well as many Repub­li­cans – want to lift them.

“We newed to get used to the fact that the power is divided, and the so­lu­tion can only be achieved if we have serious dis­cus­sions with each other,” McCon­nell said. “Ev­ery divided gov­ern­ment strug­gles with that – how do you kind of be­gin to deal with peo­ple you’ve been try­ing to de­feat in the previous elec­tion?”

McCon­nell said there is “no an­i­mos­ity” be­tween him and the top Demo­crat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They have a mu­tual in­ter­est in fund­ing the gov­ern­ment as two law­mak­ers who fo­cused on spend­ing leg­is­la­tion. But he said the two had spo­ken lit­tle re­cently.

Not all Repub­li­cans share McCon­nell’s lim­ited op­ti­mism about im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion.

If “you bring one im­mi­gra­tion bill out here – I’m be­ing a lit­tle face­tious but there is a lot of truth to it _ every­body on the right will say you have to load 12 mil­lion peo­ple up and get them out of the coun­try,” said Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, R-Iowa.

“And every­body on the left says, ‘If we’re go­ing to have an im­mi­gra­tion bill, we’re go­ing to le­gal­ize every­body yes­ter­day.’ ”

Even if im­mi­gra­tion faces nearly in­sur­mount­able odds in the Se­nate, there may be po­lit­i­cal reasons to open a de­bate. Trump turned the issue into a key part of his 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, and it is likely to re­turn as a 2020 issue.

“If we can’t get some­thing done on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, “this is some­thing that maybe the pres­i­dent and oth­ers will want to cam­paign on, chal­lenge our op­po­nents and make it (an issue) that if he gets re-elected, he will have a mandate on.”

Cornyn, who has been a piv­otal player in al­most ev­ery major im­mi­gra­tion ef­fort for years, isn’t get­ting his hopes up that this is the year to re­pair the sys­tem.

“Most of the time, the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate is a zero-sum game, and we never quite get there,” he said. “It al­ways ends up break­ing your heart.”

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