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With packed agenda, can Congress pass immigration reform?

September 5, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Lawmakers returning to Congress face a growing to-do list: raising the debt ceiling, passing Hurricane Harvey aid and now responding to President Trump’s DACA decision. John Yang is joined by Erica Werner, a congressional correspondent for the Associated Press, to discuss the deadlines looming on Capitol Hill.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: So, DACA now becomes an issue for Congress to decide, adding yet another item in a growing to-do list for lawmakers as they return from their August recess.

John Yang is back with more.

JOHN YANG: Thanks, Judy.

Congress is back, and they’re facing a list of high-stakes tasks, funding the government, raising the debt ceiling, passing Hurricane Harvey aid, and a lot of other things.

To talk about all of this, we’re joined from the Capitol by Erica Werner, congressional correspondent for the Associated Press.

Erica, thanks for joining us.

The president added to this list today. He said he wants Congress to act to protect the dreamers. He says he wants Congress to help them and do it properly.

Now, one of the reasons we’re in this situation is because Congress failed — has failed the pass the DREAM Act.

ERICA WERNER, Associated Press: Right.

JOHN YANG: What are the chances that they’re going to be able to do it now?

ERICA WERNER: Well, that is such a telling observation that you just made, John — and thank you for having me — is the reason that we’re in this position is because of Congress’ failure over many months and really years in 2013 under the Obama presidency to come up with a comprehensive solution on immigration.

There was a bill that passed the Senate, and it just could never go anywhere in the House and kind of died a slow death. So, the idea that immigration, this issue that is really quite toxic politically at this point, is being thrown on to Congress’ agenda, which is already so stacked, is really very surprising.

And whether Congress will be able to get anything done in the next six months, the deadline the administration has set, will remain to be seen, but I think there’s not a huge level of optimism at this point.

JOHN YANG: Well, let’s go through some of the other issues.

Tomorrow, the House is going the take up aid for Harvey relief. What are the prospects for that overall, and are they going to be able to pass it without conservatives pushing for offsets?

ERICA WERNER: Right.

Well, I would say — and this is one of the reasons that immigration action becomes so unlikely, is there is not room for another issue on the front burner.

But to your question on the Harvey aid, there’s the $8 billion, which will pass the House tomorrow, and this is going to be the first kind of tranche, or first down payment of aid to that region, which is going to be many, many billions of dollars more. There aren’t even ballpark figures floating around the Hill at this point as to what that ultimate package will look like.

But the vote tomorrow in the House is likely to be overwhelming to send that to the Senate. At this point, there are not a lot of people pushing for offsets. It should pass easily. Then what happens in the Senate will be another question, because, as you know, there’s a desire among leadership there and the administration to use that Harvey relief package as the vehicle to raise the debt ceiling, something that they need to do by month’s end.

And that’s a very unpalatable vote for a lot of members, so adding it to the Harvey bill could sweeten the pot for some members. But conservatives are already raising a lot of complaints about that prospect.

JOHN YANG: And in the less than a minute we have left, what’s the game plan for funding the government after the current fiscal year ends at the end of the month?

ERICA WERNER: That’s right.

So, the Congress needs to act to fund the government by September 30, or the lights go out and national parks close, et cetera. So, given all of the other issues they have to deal with, the plan for that one is to kick the can down the road into December, pass a stopgap, what’s known as a continuing resolution that continues funding levels at their existing levels through just at some point in early to mid-December, at which point they revisit the issue and have a fight over the border wall, potentially, at that juncture.

JOHN YANG: Erica Werner on the busy month ahead for her and everything — everybody else on Capitol Hill, thanks for joining us.

ERICA WERNER: Thanks so much. Thank you.

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