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Wake Up To Politics - February 13, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, February 13, 2018. 266 days until Election Day 2018. 994 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Senate begins debate on immigration

The Senate's week of open debate on immigration has begun. The chamber voted 97-1 on Monday to begin consideration of the issue, without an underlying piece of legislation to discuss. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the sole "no" vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised a week of free-wheeling debate over the issue; voting could start today on as many proposals as senators offer. McConnell says that he will usher to passage any bill that receives the support of 60 senators. "Whoever gets to 60 wins," the Kentucky Republican told reporters. "And it will be an opportunity for 1,000 flowers to bloom."

McConnell also tipped his hand on Monday, breaking his silence on which proposal he supported by endorsing the Secure and Succeed Act, the legislative version of the White House framework. The bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), John Cornyn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), and others, offers a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million "Dreamers," while also increasing borders security funding by $25 billion, limiting "family-based immigration," and reforming the diversity visa lottery program.

"This legislation is a fair compromise that addresses the stated priorities of all sides," McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. "It's our best chance of producing a solution that can actually resolve these matters -- which requires that a bill pass the Senate and pass the House and earn the president's signature."

The White House plan on Monday also received the backing of Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who told Politico that "overall" he supports Trump's framework. Heller is seen as the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the 2018 elections. However, even as it gained momentum on the Republican side, the Secure and Succeed Act is unlikely to emerge as the Senate's final compromise, as reaching 60 votes would require support from at least nine Democrats.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who opposes the White House framework, is adding a proposal into the mix today. According to Politico, Flake's bill would include a 10-to-12 year pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million "Dreamers" and $25 billion in border security funding, like Trump's plan, but would not go as far in limiting legal immigration as the White House. Flake's proposed compromise would make changes to "family-based immigration" and the diversity lottery, without going as far in restructuring or eliminating either program.

A group of moderate senators from both parties, who have been meeting in Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)'s office since the January shutdown and call themselves the Common Sense Coalition, are also expected to submit a plan. "We're close but we're not ready yet," Collins told reporters; she leads the group with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). A proposal from the centrists could arrive in the coming hours.

Other bipartisan proposals are already on the table, from John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE), as well as the "Gang of Six" led by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), but both bills have already been shot down by the White House.

Democrats may also put a version of the DREAM Act up to a vote, a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, but would offer few concessions to GOP border security demands.

If no plan can get to 60 "yeas," Flake is expected to introduce a temporary solution that would protect immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for three more years, while also providing some border security funding. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for a "narrow bill" dealing with only these parts of the debate.

Time is running out for senators to make a deal: GOP leaders are now expected to cut off the debate after Thursday. "This is going to be done or not done this week," Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters. "People had better gettowork, because the clock is ticking."

DACA is set to expire on March 5, as President Donald Trump reminded lawmakers in a tweet this morning. He tweeted: "Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th."

Trump remains the wildcard in the debate: any compromise would likely need his approval before passing the Senate or being put to a vote by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Yet, his rhetoric on the issue has changed repeatedly, from signaling that he would sign any immigration bill that Congress sends him to demanding that lawmakers accept his framework.

--- Good resource: Here's a roundup of all the bills on the table right now and how they differ, via Axios.

The Rundown

Porter fallout: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to answer a barrage of questions Monday on the administration's response to spousal abuse allegations against former Trump aide Rob Porter. Sanders would not go into detail the timeline of White House chief of staff John Kelly's response (he initially defended Porter), or offer detail on other White House officials who are operating under interim security clearances.

"The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly," Sanders said. "Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.

More on the briefing, via the Washington Post. More on Kelly's newfound isolation in the West Wing, via Politico. Also, in this morning's Washington Post: an op-ed from Porter's first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness.

The Obamas: The National Portrait Gallery unveiled its depictions of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday. The former first couple chose a pair of African-American artists to paint their portraits, a first for the collection of presidential portraits. Take a look, via the National Portrait Gallery.

DOJ exit: Why did Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand announce plans to suddenly step down and become an executive at Walmart, just months into her job? "Brand grew frustrated by vacancies at the [Justice] Department and feared she would be asked to oversee the Russia investigation," NBC News reports. If Trump fired Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as he has mused about, Brand would have taken over the Russia probe, as the DOJ's No. 3 official. More on the "revolving door" at the Trump Administration, as vacancies abound, via the New York Times.

First Family: Vanessa Trump, Donald Trump Jr.'s wife, was taken to the hospital as a precaution on Monday after opening a suspicious letter containing white powder sent to her husband. "Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior," Trump Jr. tweeted The Secret Service is investigating the incident.

The President's Schedule

At 11:30am, President Trump hosts a meeting with members of Congress on trade.

At 3pm, Trump hosts a roundtable with the National Sheriffs' Association.

At 4:45pm, he and the First Lady host a National African American History Month reception.

Also today: Sarah Sanders will hold the daily White House press briefing at 2pm.

Vice President's Schedule

At 8:55am, Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

At 9:15am, the Vice President tours the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

At 12:45pm, the Vice President participates in the weekly Senate Republican caucus launch at the U.S. Capitol.

Today in the Senate

The Senate convenes today at 10am. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will continue its open-ended immigration debate. The Senate will recess from 12:30pm to 2:15pm for the weekly caucus meetings.

Also today: at9:30am, the Senate Intelligence Committee holds its annual "Worldwide Threats" hearing, with testimony from the heads of the CIA, NSA, and FBI, as well as the Director of National Intelligence and others.

At10am, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney will testify before the Senate Budget Committee on the President's Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, which was released on Monday. The $4.4 trillion blueprint would add $7 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years; it is unlikely to make much of an impact on Capitol Hill, since Congress has already passed a two-year budget framework.

--- The New York Times sums up the most important changes in the budget request here, including cuts to the Education Department, EPA, and other domestic programs; funding for special counsel Robert Mueller; targeting Planned Parenthood and Obamacare; reshaping food stamps; and funding border security.

Today in the House

The House meets at 12pm today. The chamber is scheduled to consider nine pieces of legislation:

  1. A bill to designate the Veterans Affairs Department health care system in Lexington, Kentucky as the "Lexington VA Health Care System";
  2. the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act, "to impose sanctions against Hamas for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights by reason of the use of civilians as human shields";
  3. a resolution "calling on the Department of Defense, other elements of the Federal Government, and foreign governments to intensify efforts to investigate, recover, and identify all missing and unaccounted-for personnel of the United States";
  4. the Low-Dose Radiation Research Act, "to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to provide for a low-dose radiation basic research program";
  5. the Accelerating American Leadership in Science Act, "to direct the Secretary of Energy to carry out certain upgrades to research equipment and construct research user facilities";
  6. the Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act, "to direct the Secretary of Energy to carry out the construction of a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source";
  7. the Department of Energy Research Infrastructure Act, "to direct the Secretary of Energy to carry out certain upgrades to research equipment and the construction of a research user facility";
  8. the Building Blocks of STEM Act, "to direct the National Science Foundation to support STEM education research focused on early childhood";
  9. and a bill "to extend the Generalized System of Preferences and to make technical changes to the competitive need limitations provision of the program."