Senate

McCain, Coons immigration bill sparks Trump backlash

Greg Nash

A bill aimed at resetting immigration negotiations in the Senate is running into early backlash from President Trump.

The bill from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), introduced on Monday, pairs a path to citizenship for “dreamers” with border security measures — but does not include funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The two senators believe their bill could be a base for negotiators among a wider group of senators, but Trump took a shot at the measure before it was even formally introduced.

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The president said it was a non-starter to offer a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects many immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children, without funding for the wall.

“Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time,” he wrote in a tweet. “March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Dems seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!”

The Trump administration announced last year that it was ending DACA, which allows immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to work and go to school if they meet certain requirements. On March 5, roughly 700,000 DACA recipients will begin to face deportation without action by Congress.

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said on Monday that the Coons-McCain proposal fell short. Asked if it should be the base for the Senate’s legislation, he shook his head no saying “a lot” needed to be added to it. 

“Look at our framework,” he told reporters. “I think we’d advocate our framework to be the base bill.”

The McCain–Coons bill mirrors a House bill introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) that has more than 50 co-sponsors, including 27 Republicans. It would provide legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as minors before the end of 2013.

It would also require a strategy for the Department of Homeland Security for operational control and situational awareness of the border.

Coons said he is open to strengthening border security provisions in the legislation in order to win over more Republicans. McCain, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, wasn’t on Monday’s conference call.

Trump has set up a four-part plan includes DACA, border security and changes to two legal immigration programs — reforms to family-based immigration, which conservatives call “chain migration,” and the nixing of the State Department’s diversity visa lottery.

The McCain–Coons bill would appear to be a long-shot with House Republicans, many of whom have rallied around legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that includes additional border security measures

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) touted Goodlatte’s bill and the “four pillars” during an event at George Washington University on Monday.

“I would argue, though, our nation’s security has been weakened by chain migration and the visa lottery program, which is random,” he said. “These two programs risk exploitation from those who do not share our values and actively work to undermine them.”

But Democrats in the Senate and House are unlikely to go along with changes to the two legal immigration programs, especially after Trump’s controversial remarks in a private meeting with lawmakers that the United States should not take more immigrants from “shithole countries.”

“I think the president’s proposal around family migration is the most divisive and difficult of his proposals,” Coons said. “It would literally be the biggest immigration policy change since the 1920s. … I don’t think we’re going to get done in the next three days.”

The inability to lock down a deal has sparked speculation that Congress could be forced to pass a one-year extension of DACA paired with one year of border security funding, though senators publicly downplay the option.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently quipped that if a narrow DACA-border security deal is “Plan B,” then a temporary one-year stopgap is “Plan Z.” Coons added on Monday that an extension was a “terrible” idea.

Absent a larger agreement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will turn to an immigration debate if the government remains open past Feb. 8 — the current deadline to pass a funding bill and avoid a second shutdown.

McConnell has been tightlipped about legislation he would bring to the floor, only saying the process will be “fair” to both sides. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that after the Feb. 8 deadline the Senate will turn to a “free-wheeling debate and amendment process.”

The president’s framework proposed giving roughly 1.8 million immigrants a path to citizenship in exchange for tens of billions in funding for the border wall and other changes to legal immigration.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Christopher Coons DACA Donald Trump Dreamers Immigration John Cornyn John McCain Marco Rubio Michael McCaul Mitch McConnell Pete Aguilar Shutdown Will Hurd
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