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Dems block McConnell from setting up immigration votes

The Hill logo The Hill 2/14/2018 Jordain Carney
Mitch McConnell wearing glasses © Provided by The Hill

Democrats, for a second time on Tuesday, blocked Republicans from holding initial votes on immigration plans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to set up a vote at 8 p.m. on a proposal from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that targets federal grants for cities that don't comply with immigration law. He also wanted to vote on a separate plan from Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that links a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a border security plan.

But Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat who has been heavily involved with the talks, objected to McConnell's request. He argued that bipartisan talks are ongoing and Toomey's amendment doesn't directly relate to the DACA program.

"There have been meetings that have been going on all day on a bipartisan basis to try to resolve the issue before us. ... I believe progress is being made. I hope that we can continue along those lines," he said.

The back-and-forth came after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked a request by the GOP leader earlier Tuesday to set up a vote on Toomey's amendment and a separate, unspecified Democratic amendment.

McConnell and other GOP senators hammered Democrats throughout Tuesday for slow-walking the immigration debate after demanding that it be brought to the Senate floor as part of the deal to end a three-day government shutdown in January.

"Dems just objected AGAIN! When are the Dems going to carry out what they've been promising the DACA kids for several months? Let's move fwd or level w us that you don't want to help. my bill could solve issues for DACA kids + strengthens border security," GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) tweeted after the floor scuffle.

Senators had predicted that they would have a wide-ranging free-for-all of a debate this week as they hunt for a plan that can get 60 votes, the amount needed to break a filibuster. Instead, the rhetoric took an increasingly partisan turn on Tuesday with both sides arguing the other needed to compromise to move the chamber forward.

As a result of the standstill, the Senate is expected to vote to formally begin debate on Wednesday morning.

GOP senators said McConnell collected signatures for cloture petitions during a closed-door caucus lunch earlier Tuesday as he looks for a way to break the current logjam.

The GOP leader wants to wrap up debate on the immigration bill by the end of the week.

"We have other things to do," he told reporters, when asked if he would let the debate extend beyond this week.

The Senate is currently scheduled to be on a weeklong recess next week. Resuming the debate once they return could push a final immigration vote up against the initial March 5 deadline to find a DACA fix.

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