By Jordain Carney
A bipartisan immigration fix is facing an increasingly uphill fight in Congress after President Trump rejected a Senate proposal and sparked a political firestorm by referring to several developing nations as “shithole countries.”
Both sides are digging in on their positions in the fallout, raising fresh questions about what — if any — deal could make it to Trump’s desk before early March. The Trump administration announced in September that it is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The decision sparked a race of legislative jockeying on Capitol Hill, but there are no signs of an agreement that could win over House Republicans and Trump without alienating Senate Democrats.
Trump rejected one bipartisan proposal from a handful of senators, a blueprint that also drew push-back from GOP senators who warned that the group had tried to leapfrog the rest of the chamber.
“What they need to do is share that with others so it will have broad enough support to actually get passed, so I think that message has now been delivered,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
If Congress fails to reach a deal by early March, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be at risk of being deported.
Here are five hurdles to a deal. Trump’s comments Trump roiled the immigration talks on Thursday with his “shithole countries” comment, which has provoked international criticism.
The remarks, reportedly in reference to Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations, have drawn a wave of backlash from Democrats, as well as some Republicans, who warn they could undermine the immigration talks.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday it will end Temporary Protected Status for thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, one of the nations put down by Trump.
The Senate group’s blueprint would have reshuffled visas from the State Department’s diversity lottery program toward those immigrants. While Trump has denied that he used the vulgar language, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has contradicted him.
And the remarks have inflamed tempers after an earlier White House meeting where Trump signaled a willingness to work with Democrats. Trump even said he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him at that meeting. Later in the week, he said a deal will also have to satisfy him.
Liberal frustrations Democrats already skeptical about the contours of negotiations are using Trump’s comments to harden their stances.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, seized on the remarks as an example that Democrats cannot count on the president to negotiate an immigration deal “in good faith.”
“Now that his true motivations are clear, the Congressional Black Caucus calls on all Members of Congress, including those negotiating on the immigration deal, to reject any and all efforts to end the Diversity Visa Program,” he said.
The comments are the latest sign of the growing pressure Democratic leadership faces in negotiating a DACA agreement.
House Democrats, as well as Senate progressives, have bristled at including changes to the diversity visa program or family-based immigration, saying those two issues should be left to a larger deal on “comprehensive” immigration.
The four “parameters” of the talks have also split House and Senate Democratic leadership. While Durbin confirmed that the two issues, as well as a DACA fix and border security package, are a part of any deal, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has refused to say if he agreed to the same conditions.
The Senate proposal is renewing a fight over what legal protections DACA recipients will receive under any final agreement.
The Senate measure is expected to offer the DREAM Act, which includes a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and would expand beyond the roughly 800,000 such immigrants currently impacted by the DACA program.
But granting a path to citizenship for potentially millions of immigrants is a political lightning rod with Trump’s base, which views the DREAM Act as “amnesty.”
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters that the DREAM Act is not what the administration has in mind as the legislative fix for DACA.
“We’re not looking for DACA to be the DREAM Act,” he said. Pressed if the White House wouldn’t support a bill that includes the DREAM Act, he added: “That is certainly where we are at this moment.”
Complicating the chances of an agreement are political and policy divisions among Republicans. Those differences were on display Friday as lawmakers weighed in on Trump’s remarks. GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.), who were in the meeting, said they “did not recall” Trump’s comments. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said it was “unhelpful” and Sen.
Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said participants in the meeting told him about the remarks, called them “abhorrent and repulsive.”
But Democrats have also pointed to White House aide Stephen Miller as a larger complication for any immigration negotiations. Miller, a former Senate staffer known for his conservative views, drafted the White House’s wide-ranging immigration demands and took part in Tuesday’s immigration meeting.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are also split about the details of any potential agreement. A bill spearheaded by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) includes more items on the White House’s wish list, such as aggressive interior enforcement measures. But Flake, asked about the House measure, warned that it was “great for phase two. But it can’t be part of this deal.”
And after Cotton shot down the bipartisan Senate deal, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fired back: “Let me know when Sen. Cotton has a
proposal that gets a Democrat — I’m dying to look at it.” Short also said the White House is looking for changes to “chain migration” — allowing citizens and legal residents to sponsor family
members — to go beyond just the DACA population and their family members, in contrast to the Senate proposal.
The setback for a DACA deal comes as lawmakers are running out of time to get an agreement through both chambers and to Trump’s desk. The first deadline is Jan. 19, when Congress must at least pass a short-term measure to prevent a shutdown. “I have a hard time seeing it done by the 19th. The commitment from our majority leader was get a bill on the floor by the end of the
month. We need some runway between then and March 5,” Flake told reporters when asked about a timeline.
Both parties have downplayed the impact of a court decision which requires the Trump administration to keep DACA in place while litigation plays out, noting that a higher court could overturn the ruling.
Instead, Democrats are demanding a deal by Jan. 19, since they believe they have leverage because of the possibility of a shutdown. But both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Ryan have warned that a DACA deal will not be included as part of a funding bill, arguing that Democrats are trying to create a false deadline. “It’s important to establish that there is no deadline on January 19. Anyone who says otherwise creates an artificial deadline that only impedes our ability to create a quality legislative product,” Cotton, Perdue and GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) said in a joint statement.