Flake says bipartisan DACA talks, which include Colorado's senators, to Senate floor in January

Posted at 10:06 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-21 04:02:53-05

DENVER – The bipartisan talks to get DACA extended in Congress before March, some of which include involvement from both of Colorado’s U.S. senators, will be brought to the Senate floor in January, Sen. Jeff Flake says he was told by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Flake made the announcement Wednesday after the Senate and House passed a sweeping tax cut package.

“I am also pleased that the Majority Leader has committed to bring the bipartisan DACA bill we are currently negotiating to the Senate floor in January,” Flake said Wednesday, adding that he was happy the GOP tax bill lowers the corporate tax rate.

Denver7 first reported earlier this month that Flake, an Arizona Republican who isn't seeking re-election, was working with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to put together a DACA deal that would include the Dream Act and some border security measures. The team had initially sought to have a deal by the year's end, but that now appears unlikely.

Two sources additionally told Denver7 that Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were part of the discussions.

Politico confirmed Tuesday that those five senators were part of the group, along with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Politico also reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly had met with the senators Tuesday afternoon and said the White House would be giving them a list of additional border security measures it wants included in the deal in coming days.

Some of the border security measures that have been discussed include improving technology, adding fencing along certain parts of the border, as well as other border security-strengthening measures posed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including new drone technology, cameras, hiring incentives, and drug interdiction measures, two people told Denver7 earlier this month.

Flake told The Associated Press Wednesday that an asylum policy was also part of the discussions.

“Yesterday, one of my Republican colleagues looked me in the eye and said ‘we’re talking about amnesty. These are people who violated the law’,” Durbin said Wednesday in a new push for DACA protections. “Some of them, by his definition, violated the law when they were carried in their mother’s arms to the United States at the age of two. Does that sound right? Does that sound just? Does it sound fair to say that these are people who have broken the law in America? I don’t think so. We owe it to these young people to do the right thing.”

Graham and Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, have again led the Dream Act push this year. Durbin was in outside talks with a panel of Republicans working on the Secure Act in the months since they started crafting their proposal, but balked at them lumping in stringent interior security measures with other border security measures when their proposal was unveiled earlier this month. There are also several other discussions ongoing.

The latest version of the Dream Act would allow Dreamers to get permanent residency if they were brought to the U.S. before age 18, graduate from high school or earn a GED, pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years or serve in the military, pass background checks, and show proficiency in English.

Graham is the lead sponsor of this year’s version of the bill, which Durbin first proposed more than a decade ago. Durbin, Flake, Bennet and Gardner are all cosponsors of the measure.

Gardner signed on with Bennet to cosponsor the Dream Act in September. It was his first time cosponsoring such legislation. The House never brought a vote on the “Gang of Eight” Senate bill while Gardner was there in 2013.

In a statement made to NBC News Wednesday, McConnell said the discussions were ongoing, and said: “I encourage those working on such legislation to develop a compromise that can be widely supported by both political parties and actually become law.”

McConnell further said he supports the Secure Act, which was put together by Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley, among others, in a working group this fall. Many Democrats in the Senate say the Secure Act isn’t a serious bipartisan offer, however. Neither Cornyn nor Grassley has ever supported the Dream Act the several times it’s been introduced since 2001.

“Senator Gardner is a sponsor of the Dream Act, so of course that’s the legislation he would like to be signed into law – that’s why he sponsored it. However, his top goal is to find a bipartisan solution that allows children who came to this country without documentation, through no fault of their own, have the opportunity to remain here lawfully,” Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, told Denver7 when we reported the discussions earlier this month. “He’s open to many different solutions that will continue to be discussed that achieve that goal.”

After the tax bill’s passage Wednesday, Bennet continued to urge a DACA extension, among other priorities like funding CHIP.

“Republicans are celebrating a hollow political ‘win,’” Bennet tweeted. “Meanwhile... 9 million kids are waiting for health care funding. Dreamers are waiting for protections. And middle-class families in Colorado are STILL waiting for real, lasting tax relief.”

President Donald Trump and his administration announced in early September it would be terminating DACA and called for Congress to come up with a new extension before March.

The federal government says there were 154,000 people eligible to renew their DACA status before a deadline in October, but about 20,000 people did not apply and will not be protected from being deported.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and a bipartisan panel of nearly a dozen governors wrote to congressional leadership Wednesday demanding DACA be extended as soon as possible.