Murkowski, Sullivan split as immigration reform mires in Senate

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been hashing out an immigration bill with senators of both parties. (Image: C-SPAN)

The future of immigration reform was in doubt Thursday, after two proposals failed to win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s U.S. senators split their votes, on both measures.

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One was President Trump’s plan to grant legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants and spend at least $25 billion on border security.

The other was a bipartisan compromise that would have legalized the same number of immigrants and spent $25 billion on border security, but over 10 years. And the bipartisan plan did not curtail family-based immigration as much as Trump wants.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group that’s been trying to get a compromise bill on immigration for weeks. She says it was uplifting to see Republicans and Democrats sit down and come to an agreement on tough issues.

“We worked hard. We got a product,” Murkowski said. “It’s not a product that we are all in love with, but it’s a product that we can support.”

Earlier in the day, Murkowski stood with 15 of her colleagues at a press conference to promote their compromise.

One of Murkowski’s closest Senate allies, Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-chairs the group. They call themselves the Common Sense Coalition. When a reporter asked about the White House reaction to their solution, Collins turned the mic over to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It’ll be more colorful,” Collins promised.

Graham was not shy.

“So you got the president, who is, most days, pretty good on this. The Jan. 9th-Tuesday-Trump was awesome,” Graham said. “Show back up. Get us to a solution. Obama tried. Bush tried. Mr. President, you can do this.”

But Trump tweeted vehemently against the bipartisan measure. He said it would be a catastrophe, amnesty for criminals and result in open borders. His cabinet lobbied Capitol Hill, urging senators to vote no. Trump said Democrats who want to help the young immigrants known as DREAMers should support his plan instead.

In the end, neither measure passed the 60-vote threshhold. The bipartisan compromise got 54 votes. Most of the nos came from Republicans, but three Democrats also voted no. (Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said it went too far toward Trump’s goal of a border wall.)

A grim Sen. Graham blamed both sides.

“Well, I don’t think the president helped very much,” Graham said. “But the bottom line is: The demagogues won again, on the left and the right.”

The Trump plan got only 39 votes.

Among them: Sen. Dan Sullivan’s. In a statement afterward, Sullivan called the bipartisan plan well-intentioned but said it would have weakened border security and rewarded people for entering the country illegally. A spokesman said the senator talked with the Homeland Security secretary beforehand.

Sullivan called America “a nation of immigrants,” but said immigration must be based on the rule of law.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at