Democrats are closing in on a deal that would add immigration reform to their social spending bill before it hits the House floor, but without a long-sought goal: a pathway to citizenship.
After days of agonizing negotiations in both chambers, top Democrats are eyeing a compromise that would include new protections and work permits for millions of immigrants, including so-called Dreamers, agricultural workers and those fleeing certain volatile nations, according to multiple people familiar with the talks.
There is still little certainty that the plan can pass muster with the Senate’s rules referee, who has the power to strip the provision if it’s ruled out of order with the chamber’s budget rules. But senior Democrats believe it will at least satisfy key factions in the House — the swing district Democrats refusing to back expansive immigration reforms and a trio of Latino lawmakers who threatened to oppose any deal without their signature priority.
“I talked to [Speaker] Pelosi last night, and they were still working it out … I hope it comes together today,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a long-running negotiator in immigration reform efforts.
The proposal Democrats are coalescing behind would likely grant five-year-long work authorizations for about “six to seven million” undocumented immigrants, said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), one of the three House lawmakers who staked their support for the social spending plan on immigration provisions.
Notably, though, it would not include the full pathway to citizenship for the total roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in U.S. — a result of fierce pushback from battleground Democrats in recent days who have privately warned such a vote could be career-ending.
The work authorization “doesn’t provide a path to citizenship,” Espaillat said, adding they would “continue to fight for the pathway to citizenship” in other ways.
Key Democrats, including California Reps. Pete Aguilar, Raul Ruiz and Zoe Lofgren, have been hustling to finalize the agreement, huddling in Pelosi’s office and on the floor multiple times Tuesday as they hash out final details and run the plan by moderate Democrats.
The push to include immigration reform has emerged as one of the most explosive issues for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as they seek to finalize a $1.75 trillion social spending bill on Tuesday.
Privately though, Democrats acknowledge that even those modest immigration reforms may be doomed in the Senate. Every piece of their social spending bill must go through a rigorous test from the Senate parliamentarian, who can strip out any provisions that are not directly budget-related.
While the Senate’s rules arbiter hasn’t yet weighed in on their latest plan, she has rejected both of Democrats’ previous efforts to muscle immigration reform into the bill — including a pathway to citizenship.
“There are a number of issues that we’ve tried that the parliamentarian has [rejected],” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said when asked about the immigration effort. But, he added: “We are still talking about that. We still think that’s an objective that’s a very important one for our country.”
If immigration is blocked again, Hoyer said: “Then we’ll have to do it some other way.”
“[We’re] working through language to do that, and building support to do that,” added Aguilar, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team who has been steering immigration reform in the House. “That’s what the president has asked us to do.”
“We are going to continue down this road as long as there are options,” Aguilar said.
The plan from Aguilar and a small group of Democrats would include protections that don’t go beyond those included in previously passed House bills, a key demand from moderates who didn’t want to take a tough vote on something more significant only to have it stripped out in the Senate.
Those talks were well underway Monday night, when Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Ruiz and House Administration Committee Chair Lofgren were seen huddling with moderate Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) on the House floor in a seemingly animated discussion.
Lofgren on Tuesday declined to comment on where things stood, telling reporters: “We’re seeking guidance from the parliamentarian as soon as possible.”
Several of those lawmakers met Tuesday afternoon in Pelosi’s office as they sought to finish the talks.
“It’s still evolving,” Ruiz said.
And one senator advocated for House Democrats to include the pathway to citizenship even if the Senate parliamentarian would reject it.
“I do think it is important that the House include really all the pathway to citizenship. … It is important that we have that in there,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
Democrats’ decision to ditch a pathway to citizenship in the bill is sure to infuriate the party’s most vocal immigration activists. Some in the party have already floated the hard-line approach of overruling the Senate’s parliamentarian altogether — including House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler during a caucus meeting on Tuesday morning. But while the idea is increasingly popular with the restive base, it’s highly unlikely to win support from Senate leaders, as Pelosi reiterated to her caucus Tuesday.
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), one of three House Democrats who’s threatened to oppose his party’s social spending bill without an immigration piece, said he “absolutely” wants to overrule the parliamentarian.
He and the two others, Espaillat and Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.), have stressed that the bill could be their party’s best chance at enacting any immigration policy after years of failed campaign promises.
“You have to create opportunities when there are no opportunities. And this is a big opportunity to get this done,” Correa said.
But Durbin, Senate Democrats’ chief vote counter and a longtime immigration reform advocate, said Tuesday that he didn’t know if the votes were there in the Senate to ignore a negative parliamentarian ruling. And the idea is likely to draw opposition from moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who last week expressed concern that immigration reform was too big to fit into the package.
Schumer declined Tuesday to discuss overruling the parliamentarian, instead telling reporters that he hopes the rules arbiter “will see things in the way that we want them to.”
The parliamentarian’s rejection of Democrats’ proposal to include a pathway to legal status was far broader than many expected, and soon after she struck down their second proposal, which would have changed the date on a decades-old registry law to provide more undocumented immigrants with legal status. Senate Democrats are planning to soon present the third option that would provide work authorization and temporary protection from deportation.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) indicated that just because the Senate parliamentarian had shot down Democrats’ first two proposals, “that doesn’t mean the House can’t exert its will and express itself in terms of what it wants to see.”
“That’s probably why they are having options, too,” Menendez said. “And then, you know, you can always appeal the ruling of the chair.”
Heather Caygle and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.