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Senate tackles immigration, but House will be the biggest hurdle

Senate Majority Leader McConnell delivers on promise to have a Senate debate on immigration but getting anything through the House will be the biggest hurdle.
Image: Immigration activists march in front of the U.S. Capitol
Immigration activists march in front of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7 in Washington.John Moore / Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

WASHINGTON — You have to give credit to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: To end last month’s government shutdown, he promised a Senate debate on immigration, especially on the hundreds of thousands of DREAMers, and the Senate is now getting it. “[F]or the first time in years, the Senate will build legislation from scratch, through the process of debates and voting on amendments,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Garrett Haake write.

But over the last decade-plus, the problem in achieving bipartisan immigration reform hasn’t been in the Senate – which cleared legislation with more than 60 votes in 2006 and 2013, and neither process was easy. Instead, the key obstacle has been with the House, where bipartisan compromise is much more elusive.

On “Meet the Press” last Sunday, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. – one of the senators who has been trying to get a bipartisan compromise – said it was his goal for the Senate to pass legislation with 65 to 70 votes. “I still think that if we put a good bill to the president, that has the support of 65, 70 members of the Senate, that the president will accept it and the House will like it as well. By definition, if we can get something with support of 65 to 70 senators or maybe more, it's going to be a good, broad bill that will address, I believe the concerns that the president has outlined, but also take into account the things that we need for our economy going forward.”

But in 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive deal with 68 votes, and the Republican-held House never took up the legislation.

The one difference between now and then is that a Republican resides in the White House, and President Trump COULD give House Republicans cover to support any deal that the Senate passes. But in addition to being all over the place when it comes to his immigration desires, Trump is backing a solution that would reduce LEGAL immigration, which Democrats and even Flake say is a non-starter.

“This entire immigration debate is designed to fail, and it will,” one pessimistic Senate aide told NBC’s Caldwell and Haake, citing the 60-vote threshold as a major obstacle.

Our question: Why hasn’t the House already passed its own bill that represents President Trump’s framework? It is a recognition that it can’t get a majority of votes, even in the House?

Flake introduces immigration proposal

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Kasie Hunt, Flake is introducing an immigration proposal that he’s hoping can bridge the gap between what President Trump and Senate Republicans want included in a final immigration proposal, and what Democrats can accept. “The proposal, according to a summary provided to NBC News by Flake’s office, would include provisions addressing the four pillars President Trump wants including in the legislation (addressing DACA, border security, family reunification (chain migration), and the visa diversity lottery). But Flake’s proposal does not decrease legal migration, like the Republican plan (and Trump’s) does.”

More from Thorp and Hunt: “Per Flake’s office, the Republican bill based off Trump’s framework makes cuts to both diversity and family-unification visas. The visas unused from the cuts go toward visa backlogs at first, but do not have a designated use after the backlogs are cleared, so they will no longer be available. Overall, legal immigration numbers will decrease by the amount of unused visas in the Republican proposal. Flake’s proposal would not decrease the amount of legal immigration. It’s not clear when the proposal will get a vote during this week’s immigration debate.”

And: “The question now becomes whether the compromise could get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has signed onto the President’s framework legislation, said Monday that their proposal “is not an opening bid in negotiations, it is a best and final offer.”

Rob Porter’s first ex-wife: “Living in constant fear of Rob’s anger … chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth”

In a Washington Post op-ed, Rob Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, writes: “For me, living in constant fear of Rob’s anger and being subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth. I walked away from that relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll that his behavior was taking on me. (Rob has denied the abuse, but [Jennifer] Willoughby and I know what happened.)

"[White House counselor Kellyanne] Conway’s statements were made as she was trying to address the good wishes that President Trump sent to Rob, along with his tweets seeming to call into question the allegations and the #MeToo movement overall. Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again declined to say whether the president believes Willoughby and me. While I cannot say I am surprised, I expected a woman to do better."

Is Bob Corker re-thinking his decision to leave the Senate?

Politico says he is. “Retiring Sen. Bob Corker is ‘listening’ to Republicans urging him to run for reelection, according to a person close to him, a development that would quell anxiety among Republicans over losing a must-win seat to Democrats this fall. The two-term Tennessee GOP senator decided to call it quits in September amid an on-again, off-again dispute with President Donald Trump that has eroded his standing with the party’s base. But now a faction of Republicans in Tennessee and Washington are worried that the favorite for the Republican Senate nomination, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), could lose the general election — and with it the Senate majority.”

To us, the real question isn’t whether Corker is having second thoughts. It’s whether Corker can win a GOP primary – given his past statements on Trump.

Keep an eye on this Florida House special election

Democrats are hoping to add to their list of red-to-blue flips in state legislative races with today’s special House election in Florida. The Sarasota-area race to replace a departing GOP lawmaker pits Democrat Margaret Good against Republican James Buchanan (the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan) and libertarian Alison Foxall.

The contest has attracted national attention, with Good winning an endorsement and robocall from former vice president Joe Biden and Buchanan appearing with former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski. Trump carried the seat by about five points in 2016, but Democrats may have some serious momentum here; Good has outraised Buchannan by more than a 3-to-1 margin in the past weeks.

Democrats, Republican hold on to their seats in Minnesota

And speaking of special elections, Democrats and Republicans held on to their seats in Minnesota last night, the Star Tribune writes. “The GOP and DFL each held onto their seats Monday in two nationally watched legislative special elections in south-central Minnesota and the southeast suburbs. Jeremy Munson will be the next Republican to represent a rural House district south of Mankato, where his DFL opponent Melissa Wagner had hoped to flip the seat. DFLer Karla Bigham, a Washington County commissioner, bested GOP candidate Denny McNamara in the race to represent a southeast metro Senate district that has historically elected Democrats.”