WASHINGTON — The Senate begins a rare, open-ended debate on immigration and the fate of the "Dreamer" immigrants Monday, and Republican senators say they'll introduce President Donald Trump's plan. Though his proposal has no chance of passage, Trump may be the most influential voice in the conversation.
If the aim is to pass a legislative solution, Trump will be a crucial and, at times, complicating player. His day-to-day turnabouts on the issues have confounded Democrats and Republicans and led some to urge the White House to minimize his role in the debate for fear he'll say something that undermines the effort.
Yet his ultimate support will be vital if Congress is to overcome election-year pressures against compromise. No Senate deal is likely to see the light of day in the more conservative House without the president's blessing and promise to sell compromise to his hard-line base.
Trump, thus far, has balked on that front.
"The Tuesday Trump versus the Thursday Trump, after the base gets to him," is how Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a proponent of compromise, describes the president and the impact conservative voters and his hard-right advisers have on him. "I don't know how far he'll go, but I do think he'd like to fix it."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled an initial procedural vote for Monday evening to commence debate. It is expected to succeed easily, and then the Senate will sort through proposals, perhaps for weeks.
Democrats and some Republicans say they want to help the "Dreamers," young immigrants who have lived in the U.S. illegally since they were children and have only temporarily been protected from deportation by an Obama-era program. Trump has said he wants to aid them and has even proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million, but in exchange wants $25 billion for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall plus significant curbs to legal immigration.
McConnell agreed to the open-ended debate, a Senate rarity in recent years, after Democrats agreed to vote to end a three-day government shutdown they'd forced over the issue. They'd initially demanded a deal toward helping Dreamers, not a simple promise of votes.
To prevail, any plan will need 60 votes, meaning substantial support from both parties is mandatory. Republicans control the chamber 51-49 but GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona has been home for weeks battling brain cancer.
Seven GOP senators said late Sunday that they will introduce Trump's framework, which they called a reasonable compromise that has White House backing. The group includes Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas and Iowa's Charles Grassley.
Democrats adamantly oppose Trump's plan, particularly its barring of legal immigrants from sponsoring their parents or siblings to live in the U.S. It has no chance of getting the 60 votes needed to survive. The plan will give GOP lawmakers a chance to stake out a position, but it could prove an embarrassment to the White House if some Republicans join Democrats and it's rejected by a substantial margin.
Another proposal likely to surface, backed by some Republicans and many Democrats, would give Dreamers a chance at citizenship but provide no border security money or legal immigration restrictions. It too would be certain to fail.
Votes are also possible on a compromise by a small bipartisan group led by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. It would provide possible citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, $2.7 billion for border security and some changes in legal immigration rules. McCain and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., would offer legal status but not necessarily citizenship, and require tougher border security without promising wall money.
Trump has rejected both proposals.
Some senators have discussed a bare-bones plan to protect Dreamers for a year in exchange for a year's worth of security money. Flake has said he's working on a three-year version of that.
"I still think that if we put a good bill to the president, that has the support of 65, 70 members of the Senate, that the president will accept it and the House will like it as well," Flake told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Underscoring how hard it's been for lawmakers to find an immigration compromise, around two dozen moderates from both parties have met for weeks to seek common ground. So have the No. 2 Democratic and GOP House and Senate leaders. Neither group has come forward with a deal.
In January, Trump invited two dozen lawmakers from both parties to the White House in what became a nearly hour-long immigration negotiating session. He asked them to craft a "bill of love" and said he'd sign a solution they'd send him.
At another White House session days later, he told Durbin and Graham he was rejecting their bipartisan offer. He used a profanity to describe African nations and said he'd prefer immigrants from Norway, comments that have soured many Democrats about Trump's intentions.
Trump made a clamp-down on immigration a staple of his 2016 presidential campaign. As president he has mixed expressions of sympathy for Dreamers with rhetoric that equate immigration with crime and drugs.
Last September he said he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which lets Dreamers temporarily live and work in the U.S. Trump said President Barack Obama had lacked the legal power to create DACA.
Trump gave Congress until March 5 to somehow replace it, though a federal court has forced him to continue its protections.
The court's blunting of the deadline has made congressional action even less likely. Lawmakers rarely take difficult votes without a forcing mechanism — particularly in an election year. That has raised the prospect that the Senate debate launching Monday will largely serve to frame a larger fight over the issue on the campaign trail.
The Lancaster County jury commissioner's office is trying to make it less of a headache to get called for jury duty.
Potential jurors aren't off the hook. They're still needed to weigh evidence and decide the trials that move through the county and district courtrooms in Lincoln.
But the office is streamlining how it handles the 1,000 to 2,000 notices it sends out each month to a pool of people who could end up sitting on a jury at Lincoln's Hall of Justice.
District Court Clerk Troy Hawk said when the jury commission moved to his office from the Lancaster County Election Commissioner's Office in November 2016, one of his primary goals was to try to make it more efficient.
The two clerks were handling a lot of paper, and they still need to for some things, Hawk said.
For others, he said, they worked with the city's information services staff, which already had developed a system to compile the list of potential jurors from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Election Commission, to cut where they could.
Now potential jurors who get a packet in the mail to be summoned for jury duty can log on to a website at lancaster.ne.gov/discrt/jury and follow the link to complete the questionnaire online.
Before, they had to wait to get the packet back in the mail, then enter the information themselves, a redundancy cut out, jury clerk Nicole Miller said.
Then there were those who procrastinated filling out the paperwork who went to the courthouse to drop it off.
"This way, they can log on and as soon as they hit the final button at the end, they're done," Hawk said.
In December, the county started rolling out the changes slowly by giving half of the potential jurors for the February pool the option to respond online.
Hawk said they were excited to get a 28 percent response rate without any marketing. He'd been told by other jury commissioners across the state that 25 to 28 percent was as good as they could expect.
But, he said, it's like the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies offering more online options.
"I think that's just an expectation that people have, that they can just do it electronically. And it also saves us a lot of time and effort," Hawk said.
Not only does it save staff time typing in the questionnaire information, it also ties into the system for paying jurors. So the office can track more easily and quickly who showed up for jury selection versus who was chosen to be on a jury.
For now, you can still expect to get a phone call from one of the two clerks in the office, if you're one of the 275 to 450 people on average a month of the pool called to report for jury duty.
Hawk said he thinks Lancaster County may be one of the few counties still to do it that way, rather than sending out an email or robocall, or having a recording that jurors call in to hear when and where they need to report.
No doubt about it, it takes the two clerks days to make all those calls.
But they like knowing for sure that potential jurors got the information.
Many Lancaster County Jail inmates know their way around the place — they are not first-timers.
On Friday, the 572 inmates in the local jail had been booked into the jail an average of 11 times, according to jail records.
The average numbers are a little misleading, says Brad Johnson, jail director. There are also many people in jail for their first time.
In fact more than half of people jailed are in Lancaster County Corrections for their first or second time, based on an analysis of the 6,307 people jailed in 2017.
But one man in the county jail on Friday was in for the 132nd time in 20 years. Those so-called frequent flyers distort that average.
The 45-year-old man is an alcoholic, a transient whose crimes range from trespassing to consuming in public, and failure to appear to assault, said Johnson.
He has been charged with a lot of nuisance type crimes, and some assault-type of behavior, said Johnson.
Johnson provided jail numbers and trends last week during the quarterly corrections meeting with the Lancaster County Board, which also acts as the Board of Corrections.
Though 132 visits to the county jail is exceptionally high, there are a number of individuals — alcoholics and transients in many cases — who see the inside of the county jail more times than most.
Almost 50 people who were booked into the county jail last year had been in the jail at least 20 times in the previous five years, Johnson said.
Sometimes people are not booked on new crimes, but on failure to appear in court for previous crimes.
Inmates on Friday had been in jail an average of four times for failure to appear, based on the latest report.
The county’s Community Corrections program is designing a project to help with recidivism, specifically to reduce the number of 18- to 24- year-old men who end up back in jail.
About one-fifth of the more than 572 people in jail on Friday were young men, under age 25. A three-year, $1 million grant from the federal Department of Justice will target that age group, giving priority to men living in high poverty neighborhoods in the county, said Kim Etherton, executive director of Community Corrections.
The goal of the program, which will likely begin in the summer or fall, will be to get the young men out of custody within six weeks and begin treatment programs and to provide services they need — including employment support and education — to establish a stable environment, she said.
"The re-arrest rate for this group is really high nationally. And our jail reflects that as well," she sai