By ANDREW TAYLOR and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of bipartisan senators has reached a deal on legislation to protect younger immigrants brought to the country illegally, two GOP senators said Thursday.
One of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he shopped the framework to the White House in the hope that President Donald Trump would bless the work. Trump’s sign-off would be crucial to any hope of pushing a compromise on the divisive issue through Congress — but the White House didn’t appear to be on board.
Responding to news of progress, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “There has not been a deal reached yet.” She said the White House would keep working with Congress to try to get something done.
Earlier Graham had said he was talking to the White House about what he thinks is a bipartisan proposal.
“I’m hopeful it will lead to a breakthrough,” said Graham, who has forged a close relationship with Trump despite their previous political rivalry.
Other lawmakers pumped the brakes on the idea that it represented a breakthrough.
The bipartisan group included Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who initially announced the agreement, top Senate Democrat Dick Durbin and other pro-immigration senators that have been working for months in the hope of securing legislation to extend Obama Administration protections called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“Sen. Flake’s bipartisan group — the only bipartisan group that has been negotiating a DACA fix — has struck a deal,” said Flake spokesman Jason Samuels. “The next step is taking it to the White House.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a skeptic on looser immigration rules who joined Graham at the White House, said there’s no broader deal yet and that Trump has sent congressional negotiators back to the “drawing board.”
Cotton declared that Democrats have yet to give enough on border security and other immigration issues even though he and other Republicans are willing to bend on questions concerning childhood arrivals.
The Flake-Durbin-Graham group had also been discussing border security and other issues such as preferential treatment for relatives of immigrants already in the U.S. Details were not immediately available on what the bargainers had signed off on.
A spokesman for Durbin, Ben Marter, declined to confirm that an accord had been reached. “Nothing to report yet,” Marter said.
Even if the Flake-Durbin group has reached an agreement, it’s not clear whether it would resolve the fight over protecting nearly 800,000 young immigrants.
In a further complication, the group is but one faction on Capitol Hill working on the issue, which took on urgency in September when President Donald Trump reversed DACA protections put in place by then-President Barack Obama, saying Congress should deal with it.
It’s not certain whether the group’s plan could get through Congress. House GOP leaders, for instance, are putting more stock in a group of top leaders in both parties that have just begun talking.
But delays in reaching an agreement have led Democrats to use their leverage over a separate issue — the budget — to seek to drive the immigration legislation into law. They have put on hold separate talks on a possible deal that would uncork tens of billions of dollars in higher Pentagon spending this year alone, along with money sought by Democrats for domestic programs.
Democratic votes are needed to advance such legislation, but top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, won’t agree to a budget deal unless DACA is dealt with first. Republicans had long fought perceptions that the two issues were tied together, but they’re dropping that pretense now.
Any bipartisan agreement among bargainers would still face hurdles.
Many Democrats would oppose providing substantial sums for Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Many Hispanic and liberal members of the party oppose steps toward curtailing immigration, such as ending the visa lottery and restricting the relatives that legal immigrants could bring to the U.S.
Among Republicans, some conservatives are insisting on going further than the steps that Trump has suggested. They want to reduce legal immigration, require employers to verify workers’ citizenship and block federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities that hinder federal anti-immigrant efforts.
The Flake-Durbin group is in competition with a group of lawmakers that’s blessed by Trump and includes top Republican and Democratic leaders from both House and Senate and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Durbin is actually a part of this group also but has been privately dismissive of the effort, which got under way only this week. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California was dismissive as well.
“The five white guys I call them,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. “Why now? Except perhaps to delay?”
But Pelosi added, “There’s plenty of other bipartisan activity going on that gives me hope that we’re pretty close.”
Work on an immigration deal accelerated after Trump met with two dozen top lawmakers Tuesday at the White House and agreed to work toward a bipartisan agreement. Members of the group said they’d agreed to seek a package with four elements: helping the so-called Dreamers, strengthening border security, altering how some immigrants bring relatives to the U.S. and making changes to a visa lottery that admits some people.