KUNM

After Passing Budget Deal, Congress Turns To Immigration Without A Clear Plan

Feb 9, 2018
Originally published on February 9, 2018 9:12 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And Congress is breathing a sigh of relief. Early this morning, lawmakers passed a long-term budget agreement that is supposed to free them from the seemingly endless cycle of ugly spending fights. But what comes next may not be much easier. They'll begin debating immigration next week. House Speaker Paul Ryan promises he'll get to work on a bill before March 5, which is when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is set to end.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: My commitment to working together on an immigration measure that we can make law is a sincere commitment. We will solve this DACA problem.

KELLY: Now, the White House reiterated this week that President Trump does not plan to extend that March 5 deadline, which leaves Congress with just over three weeks to pass a deal. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here to help sort through what will come next. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: First, congratulations on surviving another up-and-down week...

SNELL: (Laughter) We did it.

KELLY: ...On Capitol Hill. What comes in the next weeks to come? What's going to happen on DACA with this deadline looming on March 5?

SNELL: The easier answer comes in the Senate, where we know that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already set up a process to begin voting on Monday. They're - we don't really know what they're going to be voting on. It will be something to do with immigration.

But the thing that Democrats are excited about is the process. Now, that sounds boring, but what's exciting for them is that means that they can get one amendment for every amendment Republicans get, and they're really pleased with that because it gives them an even chance to put together a bill together.

KELLY: OK.

SNELL: Over in the House, it's a lot less certain. All we know is that Speaker Ryan says he wants to get to work.

KELLY: I mean, the big question was whether immigration was going to be tied to spending bills. That's what Democrats forced a shutdown a few weeks ago over...

SNELL: Right.

KELLY: ...Was that question. They wanted - Democrats wanted it to be tied because they thought that gave them leverage. So where does that put things now that this budget deal has passed? Does the Democratic leverage evaporate?

SNELL: That kind of depends on who you ask. And I think it was demonstrated in the vote on that budget bill. We saw over 70 Democrats vote for that budget bill despite the fact that their leaders were telling them that voting for it would kill their leverage. There are some people that - some Democrats who say that they really believe the biggest driver of leverage now is that Republicans won't want to be held responsible if something doesn't pass. And those roughly 700,000 people who are getting protected under DACA would start being deported. And that's not something that Republicans want to do because they said they would protect these people. So Democrats hope that's where the leverage lies.

KELLY: What kind of line is House Speaker Paul Ryan walking? I mean, we just heard him there promising he wants to work on immigration. He has a lot of members of his own party in the House who are hard-liners...

SNELL: Yeah.

KELLY: ...When it comes to immigration.

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. Over in the House, the conservative block is much bigger than it is in the Senate. And Ryan says that he won't bring up a bill that doesn't have the support of the president, and that's important for two reasons.

KELLY: OK.

SNELL: One is that he needs Trump to help sell this. And the other is that Trump is seen as being more closely allied with those conservatives that he needs to kind of be aware of within his own party. It's pretty complicated, and it brings up questions about political - his political future. He says he's not taking that into account. But without having the support of a majority of Republicans, that could be troubling.

KELLY: Yeah. One last thing before I let you go, Kelsey, which is, this big budget bill that passed this morning - it passed despite deep reservations among deficit hawks who are concerned about the impact on the deficit, of the additional spending it will involve. Are they worried when you talk to them about accusations that they caved on their principles?

SNELL: Well, most of them say they voted their principles and voted against this, but there is a lot of concern, and there has been a lot of concern that Republicans promised voters that they would be bringing that Congress further to the right. And that hasn't materialized, and that is something that is going be additional pressure on Speaker Ryan.

KELLY: Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.