Five things to watch for in Trump's immigration address

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE will deliver a speech on Thursday in the Rose Garden of the White House to roll out his new immigration plan, which was crafted by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerMary Trump doesn't think Trump will run in 2024 Trump pardon scandal would doom his 2024 campaign Enforcing the Presidential Records Act is essential for preserving our democracy's transparency, history MORE.

Here are five things to watch for in his address.

Details, details

Senior administration officials who previewed the plan for reporters offered a broad outline of how it would move the nation’s immigration system toward a “merit-based” system that favors high-skilled workers, but they offered few details about how it would be implemented.


For example, they did not explain how the new points-based system would affect existing work visa programs. They said the new plan would benefit “legitimate” asylum seekers over migrants deemed to be gaming the system, but did not say whether that would require a change in the law.

Trump is not expected to offer many more details in his speech, and officials said the full plan will not be released on Thursday, which might disappoint lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are eager to hear more about the plan.

Olive branch to Democrats?

Officials say the Trump plan is intended to unite Republicans in order to strengthen their negotiating position with Democrats. But that approach has drawn skepticism in Congress, where Democratic control of the House requires that any plan have bipartisan support to become law.

The two major pillars addressed in the proposal — modernizing border security and the merit-based visa system — might please pro-business Republicans and some Democrats who have long called for such changes. But many other Democrats have vocally supported the existing family-based visa system and would almost certainly demand concessions in order to get behind the plan.

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersSarah Sanders on Trump's reported war dead criticism: 'Those comments didn't happen' Sarah Sanders memoir reportedly says Trump joked she should hook up with Kim Jong Un McEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation MORE Sanders offered few specifics Thursday morning on how Trump’s plan might appease Democrats, but suggested the development of a concrete proposal could lead to progress. If not, she said, it would allow the GOP to put political pressure on the Democrats.

“There’s nothing in there that Democrats shouldn’t be for,” Sanders said on “Fox & Friends.” “And the big difference between Republicans and Democrats in this case is we’ve actually laid out what we want, what we want to see happen in our immigration system.”

Comments like that have raised suspicions that the plan is a campaign vehicle meant to take some of the rough edges off of Trump’s immigration rhetoric, rather than a serious legislative proposal.

The undocumented

Trump’s plan does not address the elephant in the room: what to do with the roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

The question has imperiled immigration reform on Capitol Hill for decades, and some lawmakers have raised concerns that its omission could condemn the Trump plan to a similar fate.

Many GOP lawmakers believe any plan at the very least must address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides deportation relief and work permits for people brought illegally to the U.S. as children, because doing so is crucial for securing the backing of Democrats and Republicans representing blue or purple states.

Sanders told reporters Thursday morning that DACA was intentionally left out of the White House proposal because the issue is “divisive” and has the potential to doom the plan before it gets off the ground.

“Every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan and it’s included DACA, it’s failed,” Sanders said. “This plan is focused on a different part of fixing the immigration system, and we’d like for people to not reject it before they even sit down and really learn about it.”

Backlash on the right?

Trump has built his political brand while taking a hard line on illegal immigration. After descending from a Trump Tower escalator, he announced his presidential bid in a 2015 speech that called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and other criminals. He’s declared a national emergency to circumvent Congress to build a border wall.

So a plan that is intended to soften his image might irk some of his core supporters who see immigration as an animating issue in the 2020 election.

In particular, the new plan does not call for cuts to the number of people who are allowed to obtain permanent residence each year — as some Republican senators and outside groups advocating lower levels of immigration have demanded. Trump’s last immigration offer, which was backed by White House adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerWhite House liaison barred from DOJ after pressing for sensitive information President says Trump Jr. doing 'very well' after COVID-19 diagnosis Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, would have slashed that number by almost half.

White House officials have said there is no daylight between Kushner and Miller on the immigration plan, but many will be watching for any signs of tension if it draws criticism from the right.

Is it DOA in Congress?

Despite public optimism from the White House, there is deep skepticism that the administration’s proposal will garner enough support to become law.

Trump failed to pass immigration legislation during the first two years of his term, when both chambers of Congress were held by Republicans. The latest proposal will face an even steeper climb, as it must pass the Democrat-held House and the GOP-held Senate.

While Democratic opposition to some aspects is expected, Republican lawmakers were reportedly unsatisfied with some of Kushner’s answers during a presentation of the proposal earlier this week.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country The Memo: Harris moves signal broad role as VP Former US attorney asks for probe of allegations Graham pressured Georgia official MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally, cast doubt on the chances of the president’s proposal passing through Congress after presenting his own immigration plan to overhaul the country’s asylum system.

“The White House’s plan is not designed to become law,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday. “This is designed to become law. The White House plan is trying to unite the Republican Party around border security and merit-based immigration. I’m trying to get some relief to our border patrol agents.”

But Sanders argued Thursday morning that the president’s plan could co-exist with legislation crafted by Republicans, suggesting they served different purposes.

“We haven’t touched this system in decades, and we’ve really got to bring it up to speed,” she said.