CAPITOL HILL - With Capitol Hill still seething over U.S. President Donald Trump's reported slur of predominantly black nations, lawmakers sought to salvage a bipartisan immigration deal Tuesday, three days before a possible partial shutdown of the federal government.
"Mr. President, close this [immigration] deal," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said at a Judiciary Committee hearing, adding, "Don't give my number out, but call me" — a reference to an incident in the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in which Trump publicly announced Graham's private telephone number.
Hopes that Congress would vote on an immigration package as part of a government funding extension were already fading when Trump allegedly used vulgar language last week in questioning the need for the United States to accept immigrants from Haiti and African nations.
DACA, border security, reforms
The proposal, negotiated by key Republican and Democratic lawmakers since late last year, would address the plight of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. They have been protected from deportation and allowed to work in the United States under an administrative program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which Trump has rescinded. The lawmakers' negotiated proposal reportedly would also boost U.S. border security measures and reform legal immigration to the U.S.
Protections for DACA beneficiaries expire in March, making them vulnerable to deportation unless Congress enacts a legislative solution.
"We want to avoid the mass draconian deportation that otherwise will occur to these very brave and talented young people who have come to our country," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said.
Until now, Democratic lawmakers have agreed to repeated funding extensions rather than risk a government shutdown to press their demand for action on DACA. It remains to be seen whether they will do so again by Friday, when federal spending authority expires.
Some, like Representative John Lewis of Georgia, have stated they will not vote for a funding extension that does not include a DACA fix.
Others expressed hope for concrete progress on thorny immigration topics as well as a spending deal that would remove the threat of a partial shutdown for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
?Getting to work
"It should not come to that [a shutdown]," Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press program. "We should stop shutting this government down, and we should start doing the work the American people sent us to Washington to do."
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is signaling it remains committed to immigration reform.
"I'm very hopeful we can agree on a deal that increases border security ... and that also contains a permanent solution for the DACA population," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee at Tuesday's hearing.
Nielsen noted that the clock is ticking for Congress to protect DACA beneficiaries, adding that Trump does not plan to extend the March deadline.
"It's for Congress to fix," she said.
Graham expressed confidence Congress would act, but did not specify by when.
"We're not going to leave you behind," he said of the DACA beneficiaries. "I don't know how this movie ends, but you're going to be taken care of. To those who want to fix a broken immigration system, you're going to get something, too."