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Tom Cotton: Support for immigration deal won't hinge on Trump

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday he would not agree to an immigration deal simply because it has President Donald Trump’s support, as the government shutdown enters its second day with no end in sight.
William B.Plowman

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday he would not necessarily agree to an immigration deal with Democrats simply because it had President Donald Trump’s support, as the government shutdown entered its second day with no end in sight.

“I can’t make that commitment at all,” Cotton said on NBC's “Meet The Press,” adding he would “evaluate any deal on its merits and what's best for the people" of his home state of Arkansas.

By Sunday, top lawmakers appeared no closer to reaching a compromise that would re-open the government, and members of both parties continued to hurl blame at each other. Without the support of conservatives like Cotton in the Senate and House, a deal could have a hard time reaching the threshold for passage.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have remained adamant that they don’t want to continue to support short-term government spending bills if an immigration compromise offering protections for recipients of DACA can’t be reached. Protections under that program are set to expire on March 5.

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., orchestrated a bipartisan immigration deal that they felt could offer safety for DACA recipients while addressing border security concerns, but White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short on Sunday called the offer “woefully insufficient” in addressing the concerns of the Trump administration.

Short, however, did say he believed an immigration compromise could materialize down the road.

"I might be a naïve optimist on this," he said. "But I actually think we're making significant progress and we will get a deal." He noted that the White House could even be "willing to expand" the population covered under DACA.

Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said on “Meet The Press” that he also still remains optimistic, but would not predict that the government could re-open by close of business on Monday.

A compromise could be reached, he said, “if and when the president shows the leadership that we expect of him as president.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote on a three-week spending bill for 1 a.m. on Monday, but it remains unclear whether that bill will pass.

Durbin said Democrats could support that kind of bill if the president would support legislation offering safety for DACA recipients, or if Republicans could open up the Senate floor to votes on a flurry of immigration proposals with the guarantee that the House would take up what passed.

"We need to have clear assurance that if we can pass a comprehensive, or a bill in the Senate it'll be taken up in the House and won't be ignored," he said, adding the three-week timeline would only work if lawmakers come to "a basic agreement on what we'll do in those three weeks, not just a calendar date."

After the government shutdown went into full swing this weekend, Trump's campaign operation released a brutal advertisement slamming Democrats as "complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants" if they stand in the way of the administration's attempts at curbing illegal immigration. The president himself appears in the ad to approve its message.

But when asked on Sunday how the ad helps them negotiate with Democrats, Short tried to draw a line separating the ad makers from the administration.

"It's done from a political organization," he said. "It's not done from people working inside the White House."