Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET
The Senate is set to start debate Monday afternoon on immigration, launching an unusual process that could lead to a bipartisan immigration fix — or leave Congress with no solution for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who stand to lose legal protections by March 5.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will open the unpredictable path with a Senate vote on unrelated legislation. The goal is for the Senate to vote on immigration proposals and amendments from every corner of the political spectrum. Anything that can get 60 votes will pass, everything else will fall by the wayside.
“Whoever gets to 60 wins,” McConnell told reporters at a news conference on Feb. 6. He added, “There’s no secret plan here to try to push this in any direction. The Senate is going to work its will, and I hope that we will end up passing something.”
Many in Congress have been craving such an open debate because it will give senators to a chance to put their concepts and proposals to the ultimate legislative test. The plan carries a significant political risk that none of the ideas will have enough votes to pass, leaving Congress unable to fulfill their pledge to protect the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
“We’re going to have something in the Senate that we haven’t had in a while,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “It’s a real debate on an issue where we really don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
The outcome is particularly uncertain because the Senate debate is just the start of a longer process of passing an immigration package. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has not yet said how the House will proceed beyond promising to vote on an immigration bill, so long as it has the support of President Trump.
That promise has Democrats and other critics worried that the House could block whatever the Senate is able to pass. Ryan addressed those critics last week, telling reporters that he plans to hold a vote on immigration.
“To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not,” Ryan said. “We will bring a solution to the floor, one the president will sign.”
The White House has not weighed in on any of the legislative options, but Trump has insisted that any immigration bill also include funding for a wall along U.S. border with Mexico.
The legislative rush comes months of congressional inaction after Trump announced in September that they would stop renewing DACA applications in March. The program was created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama to provide legal protections to immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children.
The program is currently caught in a court battle, but Congress has vowed to act before the deadline — giving them just three weeks to pass a bill.
The hazy Senate process is expected to include votes on a wide range of proposals, including a version of a framework released in January by the White House.
That framework set out four pillars that the White House wants to see addressed in any legislation: legal status for DACA recipients, more spending on border security, ending chain migration and eliminating the diversity visa lottery.