Everyone Hates The Idea Of A Short-Term Immigration Punt. Congress May Do It Anyway.

WASHINGTON, DC - January 30:  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) leaves  the House of Representatives Chamber after President Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Pete Marovich/Getty Images North America

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that punting difficult questions about immigration until next year would be “terrible,” “irresponsible” and “bad for the country.” They may just do it anyway.

With negotiations stalling out in the House and Senate on how to handle the fate of 700,000 young immigrants whose protections President Trump revoked last year, how much money to send to the U.S.-Mexico border and what changes if any should be made to legal immigration policy, lawmakers are warning that a one- or two-year deal may be in the offing, leaving millions of immigrants and their families in limbo.

Whether the White House would sign such a short-term deal is unclear. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly indicated earlier this week that he would advise the White House against it, and said of Congress, “What makes them act is pressure.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised to hold an immigration vote as early as next week, but there is not yet a viable bipartisan bill to bring to the floor for debate. As for the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has not even committed to beginning a debate or holding a vote unless it’s on a bill that already has President Donald Trump’s personal blessing.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re making a lot of progress,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) lamented on Tuesday. 

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) was similarly pessimistic Tuesday night as he emerged from a negotiating session with Hoyer, Republican leaders and Trump administration representatives.

“This is our tenth meeting with members and staff — tenth. And we’ve accomplished nothing,” he told reporters. “I think we’re closer to a meaningful conversation, but there are still wide gaps between us. We have a long way to go.”

Durbin and Hoyer both said that they strongly oppose a short-term deal to protect so-called “Dreamers” from deportation and provide some funding for border security, and said that such a punt would take the pressure off Congress to make the difficult choices necessary to come to a long-term or permanent agreement.

“That would be a terrible outcome. We are working to solve this problem, not put it off and leave these young people and their families in suspense for another year,” Durbin said. “I hope we never reach that point.”

Hoyer agreed, saying a short-term deal would be “irresponsible,” but acknowledged that it’s not completely off the table.

“Obviously, kicking the can is something you do when you have no other option left,” he said. “But it’s extraordinary that we can’t get this done just because we’re afraid of the most radical element of the Republican Party.”

Despite the staunch opposition to a short-term deal from all sides, rank-and-file senators attempting to negotiate an immigration deal warn that Congress may be moving toward a short-term fix anyway.

“There seems to be a season in Congress that we’re in where we bring up something, find a short-term resolution, and punt it to a year later and say, ‘We’ll do more next year on it.’ But the next year never seems to come,” Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a member of the Senate negotiating group, said on Wednesday. “That’s where I’m fighting to keep the negotiations from going. My concern is that if we just punt this for a year and come back, we’ll do that 20 more times.”

Lankford, a former Baptist minister, spoke about the need to follow the Bible’s lessons about welcoming the stranger and recognizing the humanity in all persons, and complained that Congress usually falls short of these lofty goals.

“The Senate by nature always goes towards what’s easiest,” he said. “Like water goes downhill, we go toward the status quo.”

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