Legislation to help young "Dreamer" immigrants struggled to gain footing in the U.S. Congress on Monday, as lawmakers prepared to hold a Tuesday vote on a short-term government funding measure to avoid a rerun of January's three-day partial shutdown.
Republicans in the House of Representatives were told at a Monday night meeting that the stop-gap measure would extend funding through March 23, along with a year of defense funding and two years of funding for community health centers, lawmakers said.
Congress' failure to reach an immigration deal delayed passage of a temporary spending bill in mid-January, triggering the three-day shutdown. With existing money running out on Thursday, lawmakers were rushing to pass a stop-gap spending bill that would keep agencies open as they continue a months-long effort to give permanent protections to Dreamers, who were brought illegally to the United States when they were children.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier on Monday floated the idea of passing a big increase in defense appropriations through Sept. 30 while negotiations continued on non-defense spending levels — an idea Democrats have opposed.
Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said that if the House passes a short-term funding measure with long-term defense funding and sends it to the Senate, where it must pick up some Democratic support to pass, it "would be barreling head-first into a dead-end."
House Republicans said they knew that if they passed such a bill on Tuesday it could be sent back by the Senate with additional defense funding stripped out.
"If that's the choice they make then certainly we'll have to deal with it on Wednesday or Thursday if the bill comes back," Republican Representative Mark Meadows, head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters.
Bipartisan momentum for an immigration bill got a boost earlier on Monday when Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Chris Coons introduced a compromise measure. Similar legislation has already gained some traction in the House of Representatives.
But Republican President Donald Trump appeared to dismiss it immediately, saying any deal should provide funding for his long-promised Mexican border wall. The legislation did win the backing of a Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, who has been central to the fight for Dreamers.
A broader bill by Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was rejected by the White House last month.
Besides protecting Dreamers from deportation, the McCain-Coons plan would boost security on the Mexican border. But it is narrower in scope than a plan Trump put forward last month, which was resisted by hardline Republicans and Democrats.
It does not offer a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system or include funding for the wall, but calls for a way for Dreamers to avoid deportation and earn citizenship, while also bolstering border security.
The legislation would rely on a variety of tools, not just a physical wall, for securing the southern U.S. border.
About 700,000 Dreamers stand to lose temporary protections that have allowed them to work and study in the United States without fear of deportation under Democratic former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The latest initiative would protect the 700,000, while also allowing hundreds of thousands of additional young immigrants in similar situations to apply for temporary legal status that could lead to U.S. citizenship.
Most came from Mexico and Central American countries.