WASHINGTON — A group of bipartisan senators has reached a deal on legislation to protect younger immigrants brought to the country illegally, two GOP senators said Thursday.
One of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he shopped the framework to the White House in hopes President Donald Trump would bless the effort. Trump's sign-off would be crucial to any hopes of pushing a compromise on the divisive issue through Congress — but the White House didn't appear to be on board.
Reacting to word of progress, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "There has not been a deal reached yet." She said the White House would keep working with Congress to try to get something done.
Earlier Graham had said he was talking to the White House about what he thinks is a bipartisan proposal.
"I'm hopeful it will lead to a breakthrough," said Graham, who has forged a close relationship with Trump despite their prior political rivalry.
Other lawmakers on the issue pumped the brakes on the idea that it represented a breakthrough.
The bipartisan group included Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who initially announced the agreement, top Senate Democrat Dick Durbin and other pro-immigration senators that have been working for months in hopes of securing legislation to extend Obama-era protections called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
"Sen. Flake's bipartisan group — the only bipartisan group that has been negotiating a DACA fix — has struck a deal," said Flake spokesman Jason Samuels. "The next step is taking it to the White House."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a skeptic on looser immigration rules who joined Graham at the White House, said there's no broader deal yet and that Trump sent congressional negotiators back to the "drawing board."
Cotton declared that Democrats have yet to give enough on border security and other immigration issues even though he and other Republicans are willing to bend on the issue of childhood arrivals.
The Flake-Durbin-Graham group had also been discussing border security and other issues such as preferential treatment for family members of immigrants already in the U.S. Details were not immediately available on what the bargainers had signed off on.
A spokesman for Durbin, Ben Marter, declined to confirm that an accord had been reached. "Nothing to report yet," Marter said.
Even if the Flake-Durbin group has reached an agreement, it's not clear whether it would resolve the fight over protecting nearly 800,000 young immigrants.
In a further complication, the group is but one faction on Capitol Hill working on the issue, which took on urgency in September when President Donald Trump reversed DACA protections put in place by then-President Barack Obama, saying Congress should address it.
It's not certain whether the group's plan could pass Congress. House GOP leaders, for instance, are putting more stock in a group of top leaders in both parties that have just begun talking.
But delays in forging an agreement have led Democrats to use leverage over a separate issue — the budget — to seek to drive the immigration legislation into law. They have put on hold separate talks on a potential deal on spending that would uncork tens of billions of dollars in higher Pentagon spending this year alone, along with money sought by Democrats for domestic programs.
Democratic votes are needed to advance such legislation, but top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York won't agree to a budget deal unless DACA is dealt with first. Republicans had long fought perceptions that the two issues were tied together, but they're dropping that pretense now.