President Donald Trump’s administration threw cold water on the Senate’s bipartisan immigration solution Thursday — threatening to veto what was looking like the last best hope for lawmakers to pass a fix for a group of sympathetic undocumented immigrants whose deportation protections are at risk of expiring.
“The Administration is committed to finding a permanent, fair, and legal solution for DACA,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “But this Amendment would only compound the problem by encouraging millions of additional minors to be smuggled into the United States. We need to solve the problem, not perpetuate it indefinitely.”
Trump subsequently called the proposal a “catastrophe.”
The bipartisan proposal, co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), and several other senators in the unofficial “Common Sense Coalition,” would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers who came to the US as children, fund the border wall, prevent green card holders from sponsoring their adult children to immigrate to the US, and codify the “enforcement priorities” for the Department of Homeland Security to not to focus on unauthorized immigrants living in the US without criminal records.
“The Administration strongly opposes passage of the Schumer-Rounds-Collins Amendment,” Huckabee Sanders said, adding Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s name to the name in a partisan shot that angered the Republican lawmakers who actually worked on the proposal. “This Amendment would drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law.”
For months, Republicans stalled immigration negotiations in order to figure out what Trump wants. That question, for the most part, has been answered. The White House issued an ultimatum of demands on immigration that is considered a nonstarter with Democrats and moderate Republicans.
Now the Senate is nearing the end of what was meant to be a week of open debate on immigration that has gone virtually nowhere. The problem: Lawmakers are stuck between the moderate-but-passable proposals that the White House won’t support and conservative Trump-endorsed proposals that won’t pass.
A group of Republican senators, led by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have drafted a bill mirroring the White House’s framework for a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers, in exchange for border wall funding, an end to the diversity visa lottery program, and substantial cuts to family immigration — to stop “chain migration” — which critics say would gut the legal immigration system by up to 40 percent. The demands have proven to be far too conservative for Democrats and even some Republicans to sign on to.
As the debate comes down to the wire, lawmakers are no longer asking what Trump wants. They are asking a more tenuous question: What will Trump accept?
The White House is taking a hard line on immigration. Trump has been all over the place.
Grassley’s pitch: The partisan White House-inspired bill is the only bill that Trump will sign into law.
White House officials and the Department of Homeland Security have been echoing this sentiment, taking a hard line against every bipartisan immigration solution put forward in the Senate. Trump repeated DHS’s position on Twitter Thursday, calling the bipartisan a catastrophe, and reiterating support for Sen. Grassley’s, White House-inspired proposal.
The Schumer-Rounds-Collins immigration bill would be a total catastrophe. @DHSgov says it would be “the end of immigration enforcement in America.” It creates a giant amnesty (including for dangerous criminals), doesn’t build the wall, expands chain migration, keeps the visa...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
But lawmakers have become very aware of the reality that not everything the White House says is what Trump does — especially on immigration.
Trump has seemingly agreed to bipartisan immigration deals in the moment during meetings with moderate Republicans and Democrats, only to backtrack on them later — often through his chief of staff, and former DHS secretary, John Kelly or policy adviser Stephen Miller, both of whom are immigration hardliners.
In the past, Trump has publicly said he would “like” to pass a “clean” DACA bill and would “take the heat” politically for comprehensive immigration reform. He told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he would sign almost anything they came up with.
Trump and White House staff have repeatedly muddled their message on the future of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the administration plans to fully sunset by March 5.
The confusion has both given lawmakers room to continue to come up with proposals that the White House rejects — hoping that if the Senate actually passed something, Trump would reconsider — and stopped negotiations in their tracks.
As long as immigration hawks have Trump’s ear, there’s no deal
So far, the White House has rejected two bipartisan proposals on immigration.
The first was an agreement reached by a bipartisan group of senators led by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Democrat Dick Durbin (D-IL), that would give DREAMers a chance at legal status and a path to citizenship, while restricting them from sponsoring their parents, eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and funding some border projects. This proposal famously tanked when it leaked that Trump said he didn’t want more immigrants from “shithole” countries — an escalation that led to the government shutdown in January and got us to the current debate in the Senate.
The second is Rounds and King’s proposal.
The conflict comes down to a simple reality: Trump has repeatedly turned to conservative immigration hardliners like Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) in the House, who have shown no interest in working with Democrats.
But as Flake explained candidly in January, there isn’t a proposal that can please an immigration hawk and get 60 votes in the Senate.
“We are going to lose some on either side,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to get all the Republicans.”
There is a mounting sense of urgency before the March 5 deadline. Under court orders, the Trump administration is allowing immigrants to apply to renew their DACA protections. But at the same time, it’s appealing the orders to higher courts — including the Supreme Court — and the rulings could be overturned by this summer.
As long as the White House continues to involve immigration hardliners who are ideologically closer to the anti-immigration platform Trump ran on in 2016, there’s a risk of torpedoing a solution altogether.
And as long as conservative immigration hawks have Trump’s ear, there appears to be no deal.