The Stew Reporting on news from inside the Beltway

The clock is ticking for immigration reform

Politics | Lawmakers face a new deadline to help ‘Dreamers’
by Evan Wilt
Posted 9/07/17, 04:07 pm

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s decision to discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but, for the first time, Congress now has a hard deadline to pass needed immigration reforms.

“In some ways that may be the silver lining of this decision,” Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, told me. “We’ve never had a real deadline on immigration reform policies before. This gives them some urgency.”

World Relief and many other Christian organizations expressed support of DACA recipients and asked Congress to act by the March 5, 2018, deadline set by the president.

“For far too long in this country, Hispanic young people have been the political bargaining chips of our powerful politicians,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said in a statement. “Our elected members of Congress have time and again professed concern for the Hispanic community and yet have chosen to do nothing.”

President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012. Since then, nearly 800,000 young immigrants voluntarily paid a fee to register with the federal government to obtain a work permit or finish school without fear of retribution for breaking immigration laws.

Many Republicans, including Trump, said DACA was an overreach of executive power. Obama didn’t change immigration law; he just created a way to allow certain immigrants to circumvent existing statutes.

DACA recipients had to be under the age of 31 as of June 5, 2012; have entered the United States before their 16th birthday, and have continuously resided in the country since June 15, 2007. They also could not have a criminal record and had to meet certain education requirements.

Many DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” grew up in the United States and don’t know any other home. Their parents brought them to the country when they were small children, and the DACA program gave them, for the first time, the legal status to work in the United States or further their education.

“To hold someone responsible who was brought to this country as a 3-year-old doesn’t seem very just,” Soerens added.

But there’s still disagreement on what to do. Trump essentially asked a Congress that couldn’t repeal Obamacare with only Republican votes to reform the U.S. immigration system in a matter of months. If Congress does nothing, Soerens predicted 30,000 DACA recipients would lose their work permits and could face deportation each month beginning in March until they are all gone.

On Tuesday, Sens. Dick Durbin, R-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for a quick vote on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Congress has considered versions of this legislation for 16 years, but it has failed each time. The current Durbin-Graham bill would grant children of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they met certain requirements such as graduating from high school, seeking higher education, serving in the military, or working lawfully in the United States for three years.

There is broad support for the legislation on both sides of the aisle, but it still puts Republicans in a difficult position. Many in the GOP campaigned on enforcing immigration laws and could lose support from their base if they voted to grant amnesty to thousands of undocumented residents.

Trump’s March deadline for Congress to act on DACA places enormous pressure on lawmakers to find a compromise.

Democrats threatened Wednesday to create a logjam in Congress unless Republican leaders offered a vote on the DREAM Act.

“I’m confident that if put on the floor, it will garner overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon Sens. Lamar Alexander (right) and Patty Murray

Lawmakers revive healthcare debate

The Senate began the first of four bipartisan healthcare hearings Wednesday, restarting the effort to pass needed Obamacare fixes.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he’d like to wrap up debate on healthcare by the end of next week and pass short-term fixes to help stabilize the individual marketplace.

Alexander and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, invited insurance commissioners and officials from five states to testify about potential premium hikes in 2018.

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak told the panel his state is facing an individual market collapse if Congress doesn’t take immediate action. He said that in 2014, Oklahoma had five carriers to choose from and now it only has one.

The lack of competing carriers, combined with market uncertainty created by the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, has 2018 premiums set to skyrocket. Insurers are finalizing 2018 prices over the next few weeks, giving Congress little time to help.

Republicans failed to coalesce around legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and now hope to work with Democrats to pass incremental fixes.

Alexander wants to strike a deal to guarantee cost-sharing reduction payments through the end of next year. These federal payments to insurers help reimburse them for providing discounted Obamacare rates to poor Americans. President Donald Trump has warned he might end the payments, and their uncertain future could cause premiums to rise even more.

This shouldn’t be a partisan fight anymore, Alexander said, urging his colleagues to act quickly on a compromise. He said the Senate must coalesce around legislation by the end of next week.
“Otherwise, we won't be able to affect insurance rates and the flexibility of insurers," Alexander said. “If we do not do this, it will not be possible for Republicans to make political hay blaming Democrats or Democrats to make hay blaming Republicans. The blame will be on every one of us, and deservedly so.” —E.W.

Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci From left: President Donald Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi at a meeting Wednesday in the Oval Office

The art of the deal

During a White House meeting with four top congressional leaders Wednesday, President Donald Trump struck a deal that perplexed many within his own party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined their Democratic counterparts, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, in a meeting with Trump to talk about Harvey relief funds, the debt ceiling, and tax reform.

In a surprise move, Trump agreed to a Schumer-Pelosi pitch to provide nearly $8 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief with a three-month stopgap government funding measure and an increase in the debt ceiling until December.

Republicans wanted a longer extension on the debt ceiling to avoid taking several controversial votes at the end of the year. Just hours earlier, Ryan called the idea of a three-month extension “ridiculous.”

Schumer and Pelosi wanted a short-term increase in the debt ceiling to give Democrats leverage to demand concession votes during spending battles in December. Republicans need Democratic votes to pass a budget and increase the debt limit.

Some Republicans were not happy.

“The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad,” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska tweeted.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Democrats got exactly what they wanted. —E.W.

What happened to defunding Planned Parenthood?

In a letter sent to Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, leaders of 10 pro-life organizations urged Republicans to make defunding Planned Parenthood a priority during budget negotiations. “The pro-life majority that now controls both chambers of Congress and the White House must pass a reconciliation bill stopping the vast majority of federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” the letter read. “Doing anything less brings into question whether this Congress can truly be called the Pro-life Congress. Rhetoric must be translated into law.” The letter’s signers included leaders from the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America, Students for Life, March for Life, Live Action, the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, the Family Policy Alliance, American Values, and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. —E.W.

A personal affair

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., confessed Wednesday to an extramarital affair. Hours after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won a court motion to unseal another couple’s divorce action, Murphy released a statement admitting to an affair with the wife, Shannon Edwards. Edwards’ husband, Jesse Sally, alleged the affair between his wife and Murphy began in February 2016. Sally wants Murphy to give a deposition as part of the divorce proceedings, the Post-Gazette reported. The congressman said the affair was no one’s fault but his own and he has already ended the relationship. Murphy, 64, has a wife and one adult daughter and is in his eighth term in Congress. —E.W.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.

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