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The Senate’s bipartisan immigration group insists that its deliberations were unaffected by a weekend vote that saw the eight senators working to produce a bill by early April split along party lines.
“There is no change from where we were,” said a Senate aide familiar with ongoing talks. The bill is still expected to be unveiled the week of April 8, when Congress returns from the spring recess, the aide said.
The Senate defeated an amendment to the budget resolution early on the morning of March 23 that would have put the Senate on record as opposing access to health care under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act for undocumented immigrants who get a green card.
All Democrats — including “gang of eight” members Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado — opposed the amendment. They were joined by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. All other Republican senators — including immigration negotiators Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona — supported the amendment.
The amendment, which failed 43-56, was offered by Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has been critical of the group of senators for drafting its bill behind closed doors.
“The result of today’s vote places immigration reform in jeopardy,” Sessions said in a release after the vote.
But the Senate aide disagreed on Monday. “Sen. Sessions is wrong,” the aide said, adding that the group is still working together and hopes to release a bill after the recess.
A spokesman for Rubio said the senator has long opposed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants who gain legal status from getting federal benefits, and the bill the group is working on is expected to reflect that.
“Sen. Rubio has been talking about this principle of no federal benefits since January. He got the bipartisan Senate group to agree to it in their principles, and President [Barack] Obama himself accepted it during the Las Vegas speech [in late January]. He then later re- affirmed it during an interview ... on Telemundo’s Enfoque,” the Rubio spokesman said. “The legislation that the bipartisan group is working on will make clear that undocumented immigrants given legal status will not receive any federal benefits.”
Rubio spoke about the issue when the group released its framework, which states that “current restrictions preventing non-immigrants from accessing federal public benefits will also apply to lawful probationary immigrants.”