The contours of the immigration debate scheduled to begin next week on the floor of the Senate are beginning to take shape.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, told reporters Tuesday evening that she believes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could begin the immigration debate with a neutral House-passed bill that may not have any immigration elements in it. Instead, she said McConnell could invite both sides of the aisle to offer their own immigration amendments all in an effort to keep his thumb off the scale.
"I anticipate that Leader McConnell would bring to the Senate floor a neutral bill, a vehicle if you will, probably a House-passed bill that is not an immigration bill. Then there would be amendments offered on both sides of the aisle," Collins said. "My hope is that our commonsense coalition could come up with a proposal to put forth for our colleagues' consideration."
According to one Senate GOP aide, a House shell bill could be a way forward.
What exactly McConnell will put on the floor is still an open question, of course. But the idea would be to keep any side from feeling like the immigration debate was already weighted against them. Choosing some kind of neutral bill, for example, from the House would also solve future issues surrounding the fact that an immigration bill with border security money would have to originate from the House.
There are already a whole host of immigration bills out there that could potentially come up as amendments if leaders went that route. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois have their bill, which the White House has dismissed. The White House has its own framework, which includes $25 billion in border security and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants as well as major changes to the country's legal immigration system. This week, Sens. John McCain and Chris Coons introduced their own narrow immigration bill. And there are more proposals in the House.
Durbin said he still expects a neutral bill.
"I think he's going to do what he said he would do, 'level playing field,' bring some neutral-type bill to the floor," he said.
Graham wouldn't explicitly lay out if that was the plan, but said he was optimistic.
"I think we got a way forward that seems to be fair to everybody," Graham said.
McConnell has signaled that the test for any proposal will be who can get the votes.
"We'll see who can get to 60 votes," McConnell said at a Republican retreat last week.
Collins also said Tuesday evening that the bipartisan "Common Sense Coalition" is still trying to cobble together its own compromise. She said they are making progress, but still have a ways to go.
"I'm not saying we've come to a consensus yet, but we're getting closer," Collins said. "We're certainly not there yet, but I think we've made some real progress."