Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE’s push for a long-stalled deal on immigration is running straight into a dead end on Capitol Hill.

Trump’s plan would try to break the years-long stalemate by overhauling the legal immigration system and giving preference for green cards to immigrants based on job skills rather than family reunification.

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But there are already warning signs that neither the White House proposal nor bills being floated on Capitol Hill are able to bridge deep political divides heading into the 2020 elections.

Republican lawmakers acknowledge that Trump’s plan is more about unifying the party around a “merit-based” plan and giving them a messaging tool to use against Democrats.

“We all know you’re not going to pass this without dealing with the other aspects of immigration but … getting the party united behind a merit-based immigration proposal and border security is a significant step,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally MORE (R-S.C.) said about Trump’s proposal.

He added that “the White House’s plan is not designed to become law. ... The White House plan is trying to unite the Republican Party.”

Asked after a closed-door GOP lunch how they would get Democrats on board, Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump pushes Mexico for 'significantly more' as tariffs loom The Hill's Morning Report — Trump pushes Mexico for 'significantly more' as tariffs loom Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 MORE (R-N.D.) referred back to his own caucus, saying “first is getting these guys on board.”

Immigration legislation has been stalled on Capitol Hill for years amid intense infighting and growing pressure from bases in both parties to draw hard lines on any potential compromise.

Trump made hard-line immigration rhetoric and a pledge to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall a key theme in his 2016 presidential campaign. Since taking office, he ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, rejected bipartisan immigration proposals and helped spark a 35-day partial government shutdown over border wall funding.

Trump dug in to the political fight during his Rose Garden speech, using his proposal to contrast himself to Democrats heading into the 2020 election. He added that if Republicans can’t win over Democrats, they will pass his immigration plan “after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and of course hold the presidency.”

“One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-America immigration policy,” Trump said.

But his proposal has landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, where it would need to pass the Democrat-controlled House and win over at least seven Democrats to pass the Senate.

“This sham proposal is dead on arrival. It is a mockery of what America means,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (D-N.Y.) called the White House plan a “political document” and “anti-immigration reform,” while House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) also called it “dead on arrival.”

Democrats would face their own pressures if they tried to negotiate an immigration deal with Trump. Several of the party’s 2020 candidates immediately panned the White House proposal, noting it did not deal with undocumented immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought illegally to the country as children.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (D-Ill.) expressed skepticism, even after working to win passage of a criminal justice reform bill with Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFinancial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Financial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Kim Kardashian West joins Trump at White House event for ex-prisoners MORE, of the president's willingness to negotiate.

“I’ve been down this road before and have been burned and others have too,” he said, “so I come to this with my eyes wide open.”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appeared skeptical that lawmakers were interested in finding a deal on border security and immigration. Some in the Senate, he said, “believe the border is just a nuisance” and think that “this is a great political issue for their political base.”

“[But] I would like to see the majority leader put an immigration bill on the floor ... let us offer amendments, let us deliberate and let us vote,” Kennedy added.

The Senate rejected four immigration proposals last year, including a White House–backed plan that got 39 votes. A bipartisan proposal also fell short of defeating a 60-vote filibuster; Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA MORE (D-Calif.), who is running for president, was one of three Democrats to vote against it.

House Democrats are reportedly planning to bring the Dream Act up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee next week, paving the way to send it to the vote before the full chamber.

Spokespeople for committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWatergate figure John Dean earns laughter for responses to GOP lawmakers The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by MAPRx - Nadler gets breakthrough deal with DOJ on Mueller docs The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by MAPRx - Nadler gets breakthrough deal with DOJ on Mueller docs MORE (D-N.Y.) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the House panel’s plans.

That legislation would give Democrats something to tout ahead of the 2020 elections but would be dead on arrival in the Senate and with the White House.

“I can’t imagine Democrats are going to let us pass an immigration bill,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and GOP leadership. “But my hope is that at least they'll allow us to do a targeted bill that deals with the current crisis.”

Asked how Democrats could be convinced to come on board, he added: “If you know the answer to that, then I owe you five bucks. I think they like the issue more than they want a solution, frankly.”

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has rolled out legislation that would overhaul U.S. asylum laws, including a change to a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that would increase the amount of time an undocumented minor can be detained from 20 to 100 days.

The GOP senator is expected to hold a committee vote on the bill next month. Democrats say they are ready to talk with Graham, but face political challenges to reaching a deal.

Durbin said maintaining the 20-day limit was a “fundamental principle that all of us on the Democratic side share” and that changes were a “non-starter for many of us.”

Graham, however, said changing that standard was a must.

“I’m trying to turn off the faucet and the Flores faucet has to be fixed, OK?” he said. “If you don’t fix that dilemma, then you won’t stop the flow.”