Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 GrahamZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate 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 CramerLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Maryland manufacturers are stronger with the Export-Import Bank White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback 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.).

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria Schumer calls for FDA to probe reports of contaminated baby food How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse MORE (D-N.Y.) called the White House plan a “political document” and “anti-immigration reform,” while House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Trump lashes out at Pelosi as she visits Jordan to discuss Syria Thomas D'Alesandro III, brother of Nancy Pelosi, dies at 90 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 DurbinDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback 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 KushnerCareer State official warned about Biden's son: report Buttigieg knocks Trump as a 'walking conflict of interest' Biden's weak response to Trump is a lesson for Democratic candidates 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 HarrisWarren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Kamala Harris reacts to supporter who got tattoo of her handwriting Even with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency 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 NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday 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 slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Succession at DHS up in the air as Trump set to nominate new head 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.”