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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators that met privately Wednesday agreed to have their staffs draft a document outlining incremental immigration changes so they "can build from there," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Axios.

Why it matters: The Republicans and Democrats recognize that Congress has failed numerous times to pass comprehensive reform, so now they're looking for a starting point amid a migrant surge at the southern border.

Behind the scenes: The group, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), met behind closed doors in the Mansfield Room, steps away from the Senate floor.

  • Attendees included Cornyn and Durbin, as well as Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
  • Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) called in.
  • The biggest areas of consensus were protections for so-called Dreamers and preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to a source familiar with the discussion.

What they're saying: "I was making the argument, and I think people generally understand, that we're not going to do comprehensive immigration reform on this," Cornyn told Axios.

  • "We do incremental a lot better," he added. "Unfortunately, there's not a lot of trust. But I think if we did something that is pretty much consensus, like DACA, then that would be confidence-building, and then we'd kind of move on to the next."
  • Durbin said: “We did not reach any conclusions. ... We put many ideas on the table. And we're going to invite the administration to look at them and join us in this conversation."
  • "I think we agree on a bipartisan basis that we've got to reform the system, as far as we can take it," Durbin added.

Yes, but: There's already one hiccup.

  • While Durbin told reporters he sees the immigration bills that recently passed in the Democratic-controlled House as "starting points,” most Republicans see them as non-starters.
  • "I think that'd be a mistake. There wouldn't be any support for the House bills," Cornyn told Axios.

Go deeper

Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure bills face House chaos

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries arrives for a House vote last month. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The infrastructure agreement cinched Wednesday by senators faces several changes in the House before it — and a companion reconciliation bill — have any chance of becoming law.

Why it matters: The myopic focus on the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators overlooks House progressives and others ready to pounce. They have the ability to quash any deal, given the narrow Democratic margins not only in the Senate but also the House.

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.