Senate negotiators ultimately agreed to vote on two immigration-related amendments — including Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) Title 42 measure — to break an impasse that threatened to derail the omnibus spending package.
Both amendments failed in floor votes on Thursday, and the omnibus is expected to clear the Senate as soon as late afternoon.
Senate Republicans are threatening to derail hurried efforts to prevent a government shutdown by trying to force a vote on an amendment that would extend a widely condemned Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which the federal government has used to expel millions of asylum seekers on public health grounds.
With government funding set to expire at midnight Friday, senators failed to reach a deal Wednesday night to advance the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package as Democrats pushed back against Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) last-ditch bid to extend Title 42. The Biden administration, which has used Title 42 to quickly deny asylum claims, is currently urging the U.S. Supreme Court to end the policy.
“Democrats had offered to give Lee a vote on his amendment at a 60-vote threshold. But senators and aides said they continue to haggle over a push by Lee and other Republicans to lower the threshold to 51 votes,” Politico reported. “A Senate Democratic aide described Lee’s amendment as a ‘poison pill’ that would ‘kill the omnibus.'”
If senators agree to waive the 60-vote threshold, Lee’s amendment could pass given that just one Democratic senator would need to join the GOP in voting yes. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has expressed support for extending Title 42.
Some House Democrats, such as right-wing Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), have also backed Title 42, but any amendment extending the policy would likely face significant opposition from progressive lawmakers in the lower chamber, potentially tanking the omnibus altogether.
“Title 42 is cruel, racist, and xenophobic, and we can’t allow it to keep immigrants and refugees from seeking asylum in our country. Full stop,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted late Wednesday.
Schumer said he hopes to come to an agreement to move forward with the 4,155-page omnibus by Thursday morning, but it’s unclear whether Lee and other Senate Republicans will back down even as they welcome the spending bill’s massive increase in the U.S. military budget.
“If they don’t give us an up-or-down vote, this is going to be very difficult for them and will cost them the omnibus,” Lee said in a Fox News appearance on Wednesday.
Last month, a federal judge barred the U.S. government from continuing to use Title 42 to expel asylum seekers, arguing that “it is unreasonable for the CDC to assume that it can ignore the consequences of any actions it chooses to take in the pursuit of fulfilling its goals, particularly when those actions included the extraordinary decision to suspend the codified procedural and substantive rights of noncitizens seeking safe harbor.”
Weeks later, a federal appeals court agreed that the Title 42 expulsion policy must end, but Republicans states leading the effort to keep it in place took their case to the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday granted the Republicans’ request to stop the Biden administration from unwinding Title 42, and the administration responded with a filing asking the high court to quash the GOP attempt to keep the “obsolete” policy in place. As the legal fight over the policy continues, thousands of migrants have been left in limbo at the increasingly militarized U.S.-Mexico border.
“This was an avoidable mess,” said the immigrant rights group RAICES. “Now, thousands of asylum seekers are suffering the consequences.”
The ACLU, one of a number of organizations that have vocally opposed Title 42 from the start, is imploring Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate to fight Republican efforts to extend Title 42.
“Title 42, a brutal policy initiated under Trump, strips people at the border of the right to seek asylum by expelling them to Mexico or their country of origin without the opportunity to seek protection under U.S. laws,” the group notes in a petition. “After a recent review of the policy, the [CDC] found the policy is not necessary to protect public health and issued an order ending the policy. A federal judge also recognized the grave harms caused by Title 42 and ordered its end.”
“But now,” the ACLU warned, “anti-immigrant lawmakers are attempting to override CDC and the legal ruling by passing legislation in Congress that mandates Title 42’s continuation. Tell Congress to oppose any attempt to extend the brutal, anti-immigrant Title 42 policy.”