Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw

President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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 GrahamThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks 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 CramerGOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) called the White House plan a “political document” and “anti-immigration reform,” while House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 DurbinDick DurbinBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch 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 KushnerKushner launching investment firm in move away from politics: report Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Unsealed documents detail Trump and Biden efforts on reporter records 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 HarrisWhy in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act 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 NadlerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Britney Spears's new attorney files motion to remove her dad as conservator Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer 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 CornynSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division 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.”