WASHINGTON – Congress will return this week to the political cauldron of immigration policy, and almost every member will claim to be a player.
But realistically, if a deal is reached to protect nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation, only a few will be able to claim credit.
Members of Congress are hoping to make a deal before Thursday, when the government could shut down again.
Democrats want an assurance that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be preserved as a condition of voting to maintain government funding.
Republicans want a deal, too, to avoid another shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised that after the Thursday deadline, he would allow an open debate on the Senate floor on immigration proposals.
Here are five lawmakers to watch as the debate unfolds:
• Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The White House panned the immigration proposal Graham promoted with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, which included a path to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries.
But their framework is still being used as a starting point for the nearly 36 senators from both parties who showed up for a meeting Graham convened after the Senate vote to reopen government last month after a three-day shutdown. They have since been meeting nearly every legislative workday to come up with a new framework.
• Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. It was Collins who first opened her office doors the weekend of the January government shutdown to any senator who wanted to revive federal operations.
Many of these members of her "Common Sense Caucus" have joined the immigration group, which Collins is continuing to host.
If those meetings end, or are permanently moved elsewhere, it could send an important signal about where one of Congress' most respected bridge-builders thinks the conversations are headed.
• Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. Gutierrez's embrace of an immigration proposal could indicate a breakthrough.
Democrats are struggling with what they'd be willing to accept in an immigration deal. Gutierrez is himself incensed over the White House's proposal to give all DACA beneficiaries a path to citizenship in exchange for reducing legal immigration and erecting a wall along the border.
But Gutierrez has also said he's willing to accept a compromise bill, and if he accepts one, other Democrats might come along, too.
• Durbin. He has fought for years for legislation to protect DACA beneficiaries from deportation, and Democrats continue to be confident that he will be a good-faith negotiator with Republicans. At the same time, Democrats know Durbin won't sign on to any deal that doesn't have their support.
• Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows is helping steer Republicans in the House toward a deal that conservatives can accept. As the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who regularly communicates with members of the Trump administration, Meadows is positioned to provide the pressure necessary to influence House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Meadows wants a vote on legislation from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which doesn't have the support to pass in the Senate and might not even have the votes to advance in the House. But if Meadows doesn't get what he wants, he could mobilize more than three dozen conservatives to revolt.