Multiple groups in Congress are working on their own solutions for immigration
One of the key bipartisan groups in the Senate is known as the 'Gang of Six'
The fight over how to address several high-profile immigration issues has splintered congressional negotiators into different groups with competing proposals, some pushing the discussion toward party extremes and others trying to find a bipartisan middle ground.
As the President’s meeting Tuesday showed, there are many lawmakers jockeying to make sure their plans advance, making it difficult to keep track of who’s running the show.
Here are the key players that have taken the lead:
Congressional leadership vs. ‘Gang of Six’
In just one effort to streamline the process, the four second-in-command congressional leaders – Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer – got together Wednesday afternoon to try to sort through the efforts.
“We are not going to default to existing groups. There were too many groups to count and they were basically getting nowhere,” Cornyn told reporters. “So that’s why, I think, the need to move to this level.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican member of another group, says it’s his “Gang of Six” with Durbin that’s leading the way. “Somebody has to put forward a document. Somebody has to put forward a bill,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Durbin says the “Gang of Six” group is close to a deal, and as for a meeting of the congressional No. 2’s, Durbin said it was “very difficult” to imagine that separate group would produce a product, and was visibly exasperated by the topics discussed.
He sighed, laughed and looked up at the ceiling when asked if the meeting earlier Wednesday in McCarthy’s office was mostly to come up with a meeting schedule.
“Yes, that’s exactly what it is. They’re going to start with a staff meeting at 3:30 (Thursday) afternoon. To talk about an agenda,” he said, half laughing, half sighing. “We’ve been at this for months. I’m going, we’re participating.”
In the Senate
Bipartisans: The “Gang of Six” consists of six senators from across the aisle that have been working on a DACA deal for months. Because the Senate needs Democrats to pass a deal, they’ve been working towards a proposal that we could get members on board from both parties.
The group is led by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Durbin, who together introduced a bill last year that would allow immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship.
Also in the gang are senators from states with large immigrant populations, including the two senators from Colorado – Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner. One border state – Arizona – is represented in the group with Flake, who’s played a vocal role in demanding a bipartisan process. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey recently joined the group, bringing the total to six. All members were part of the 2013 immigration “Gang of Eight,” with the exception of Gardner, who was not in the Senate at the time.
It’s clear they’re unlikely to get support from senators on the farther ends of the political spectrum – especially on the right. Asked if he could support a deal produced by this group, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz gave a flat “no.”
“Passing an amnesty bill that continues ‘chain migration’ and has only fig leaf token efforts at border security, would be a serious mistake,” he said.
Right flank: Those unsatisfied with compromises being made in the Gang of Six are taking a more hardline approach. Cornyn heads up an all-Republican working group that includes Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, David Perdue of Georgia, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and James Lankford of Oklahoma. They’re focusing on family-based migration, the diversity lottery system, and bolstered border security – which includes a number of other controversial immigration enforcement provisions.
They’re attempting to craft a proposal that would first pass the House, which would only require a simple majority of votes, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance a bill in the Senate.
“It’s not just about 60 votes,” Tillis said. “It’s 50% plus one in the House, and I don’t want to make a point to say the Senate’s ready to go. I want to make the difference in providing certainty to the DACA population and a more secure border.”
Left flank: Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, have been a vocal and active force in the debate. They’re demanding a clean DACA bill now with no border security provisions attached – an unlikely situation. Some of the most visible senators include many of the potential contenders for the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, like Sens. Kamala Harris of California, whose state is home to the most DACA residents of any single state, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
In the House
Bipartisans: While there’s no formal bipartisan “gang” in the House, there are multiple members who’ve been working across the aisle to find a solution. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, on Monday unveiled a proposal with a bipartisan partner, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Whip Pete Aguilar, that focused on border security and DACA alone, without any spending deal component.
Other efforts include bipartisan talks through the Problem Solvers Caucus. Like in the Senate, Republicans with heavy immigrant populations in their state are taking a lead, including Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman and Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo – who has gone so far as to join Democrats in saying he won’t support government spending without a DACA resolution. The Problem Solvers effort is also being shaped by co-chairmen New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer and New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed.
Right flank: A group of House conservatives introduced their own proposal on immigration on Wednesday at the helm of Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Raul Labrador of Idaho – a heavily conservative plan. The bill comes from a handful of members from a working group arranged by House Speaker Paul Ryan and includes a wish-list of conservative requests on immigration. Also key in this group are Reps. Martha McSally of Arizona and Mike McCaul of Texas. The goal of the group is to keep Republican leadership focused on the demands of the conservative base and pull negotiations to the right.
Left flank: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, especially its vocal chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and longtime immigration advocate firebrand Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, have been instrumental in keeping Democratic leadership checked in with the base on the left. The group has been seeking to hold leadership’s feet to the fire on not giving up any leverage or on poison pills – including by publicly storming the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shortly before the December recess to demand senators hold the line in spending talks.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.