Democrats are still trying to include protections for undocumented immigrants in the massive economic bill that would expand the nation’s social safety net in a last-ditch effort, even if it’s not exactly what they’d hoped it would be. But they still need to get buy-in from their colleagues.
A looming concern within the Democratic caucus is casting a tough vote in the House only to see it stripped out by the Senate, where the parliamentarian still needs to review a proposal to include immigration provisions in the bill. That includes House Democrats in tough reelection races in red districts who have privately shared reservations over voting on the House version of the bill when immigration is likely to be stripped from the package and moderate Democratic senators, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, oppose the measures.
It’s especially created tension with members who have been publicly advocating for these measures. Three House Democrats – Reps. Adriano Espaillat of New York, Chuy García of Illinois and Lou Correa of California – have said they would not support the economic bill unless immigration is in it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford to lose three votes in the House for the bill to pass, which could be a problem if it comes back to the Senate without immigration reform.
“On the House side, it’s kind of a two-pronged approach,” Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas told CNN, underscoring the significance of conversations among lawmakers in the House and Senate to ensure a coordinated approach. “We have to make sure we have the votes on the House side and that involves conversations with colleagues who may feel discomfort about some of these provisions, making sure that we answer all the questions possible so we have the votes necessary to accomplish as much as possible.”
Democratic aides are preparing to pitch what they call “Plan C,” their third attempt to try to include some sort of immigration provision in the economic bill that would provide work permits and protections for immigrants, sources told CNN. Democratic leaders say they are still waiting for a score from the Congressional Budget Office that would lay out how many undocumented immigrants could be affected by the legislation and how much the provisions would cost before they argue to the Senate parliamentarian.
Democrats plan to pass this $1.75 trillion economic bill using a process called budget reconciliation, which would only require all 50 Senate Democrats’ yes votes but also means lawmakers can only include provisions that have a real impact on the country’s overall budget. That means the provisions must either raise revenue or add to the deficit and that impact cannot be merely “incidental.” The Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough would be the final sign off for what is ultimately included in the bill. MacDonough has already ruled twice against arguments from Democratic aides to include immigration in the economic bill.
Two moderate Democratic senators – Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – have also been vocal about not wanting to bring the price tag up for the bill. Sinema has not weighed in publicly or privately on including immigration.
Manchin has indicated to CNN he was concerned about provisions in the bill to deal with the undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The House version of the economic bill includes parole language that is similar to what Democratic aides plan to argue to the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days. Parole allows undocumented immigrants who entered the United States prior to January 2011 and meet a certain set of criteria to get temporary protection from deportation and work permits.
An estimated 7 million people could be eligible for relief, according to a House fact sheet. But it doesn’t provide a pathway to citizenship.
A senior Democratic Senate aide stressed to CNN that what is included in the House version is just a placeholder until the parliamentarian rules on “Plan C,” which is expected to happen sometime later this month once Democratic aides argue in front of the Senate parliamentarian.
Pelosi said in a closed-door meeting on Thursday that her plan is to have the House vote on the economic bill, otherwise known as “Build Back Better,” as soon as the end of the day.
“One of the other issues we’re dealing with since last week is the immigration issue where I think we’re finding our common ground and what is in the bill has good resonance, others want more, so do I want it all but you don’t get it all, but we would be open to it,” Pelosi said during her news conference Thursday.
Pelosi said she’d like to see an immigration provision that would change the registry date from 1972 to 2010 for the legalization of immigrants. Moving the registry date up would make millions more who were in the US before that date eligible for lawful permanent residence. But she conceded it’s unlikely.
“It just doesn’t seem to have a big prospect in the Senate, so we don’t want to ask members to vote for something that wouldn’t have a good prospect on the Senate that is controversial,” Pelosi said.
After a meeting with Pelosi on Wednesday, Espaillat maintained that he supports registry and work authorization. “We had a lengthy, genuine discussion about it. And we still have to discuss a little bit more,” Espaillat told reporters.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.