Politics

Members Caught Off Guard on News of DACA Fix On Omnibus

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was among the members who thought the ball was in the administration's court adding a DACA fix to the omnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The White House has held some discussions with Congress about addressing immigration in the pending fiscal year 2018 spending bill, according to GOP senators and aides, but members are skeptical that such a provision will be included in the omnibus package.

Lawmakers in both parties have sought a solution to the situation surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which covers undocumented immigrants who come to the country as children. President Donald Trump targeted it for expiration on March 5, which has been halted by court actions. The chamber voted on a series of different DACA proposals in February, but none garnered the necessary 60 votes to advance.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the president was open to pairing a short-term extension of the DACA program with border wall funding. While Sen. Ron Johnson said talks have occurred, other members involved in the immigration discussions say they have had no such conversations with the administration.

“Yea there has been a lot of talk about it...A lot of things are swirling around the omnibus,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “Again if he is open to this he has the signing pen; again, it's way above my pay grade but I wouldn’t be objected to it.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, doesn’t expect any DACA bill to be attached to the omnibus spending package.

“Not that I’m aware of. But I’m not aware of everything,” Cornyn said. “My sense is that the litigation has taken the sense of urgency out of that and so I think we’ve got more time. We have more urgent things to do like keep the government up and running so I wouldn’t think we have to complicate it unnecessarily.”

“I could be completely wrong, but I don’t expect to see DACA language in it at all,” he continued, adding he hasn’t heard anything from the White House about including a DACA bill in the spending package.

Sen. James Lankford, who has worked for on legislation to address the future of the DACA program, said he was unaware of any discussions on the matter and was informed recently no immigration measures would be attached to the spending bill.

“I’ve heard zero conversation about including anything in the appropriations bills on immigration. I’ve had conversations as recently as Monday of this week ... and was told [by Senate leadership] it’s not going to be in the appropriations bill,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

Rep. Tom Cole, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he has also not been briefed by leaders on possibly including a DACA deal for border wall funding in the omnibus. But he thinks most of the House GOP Conference would be supportive of the trade, if it happens.

“If it’s short term, it depends on what the terms of the deal are. But I think it could happen,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

The proposal, however, was immediately blasted by some Senate Republicans.

“It’s kicking the can down the road and people not doing what we should do, which is provide a long-term fix,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. “That’s a cop-out.”

Including a short-term DACA extension in the omnibus would be a dramatic reversal for GOP leaders in Congress. Both House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have sought to separate the immigration debate from the ongoing debate over government funding.

Aides were unsure the exact specifics of what the White House was offering, but the report in the Post, citing a GOP official, said one proposal is to include a three-year extension of the program with three years of funding for a border wall.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.