President Trump and senior administration officials were working furiously Thursday to scuttle a bipartisan plan to deal with young undocumented immigrants and boost border security as a Senate showdown over immigration loomed.
Senators prepared to vote on competing proposals, all of which looked doomed to fail, and top GOP leaders were doing little to encourage bipartisan accord. Overnight, the White House moved to beat back the emerging bipartisan consensus on immigration, sharply denouncing the proposal as a “mass amnesty” that would weaken border control.
In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump said, “While the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are working hard to come up with a solution to DACA, they should be strongly considering a system of Merit Based Immigration so that we will have the people ready, willing and able to help all of those companies moving into the USA!”
That appeared to reiterate his calls to end a diversity visa lottery program, which is not mentioned in a bipartisan plan unveiled late Wednesday. The issue of ending the program is what sparked Trump’s expletive-ridden tirade in a January Oval Office meeting with lawmakers.
Late Wednesday, a senior administration official vowed that the White House would strongly lobby against the bipartisan legislation, likely to make striking a deal far more difficult, if not impossible, with time running out. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the debate must be concluded this week.
“We’re doing everything in our power” to block the bill, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy.
The administration official said the White House already has been in contact with individual Republican senators, as well as House leadership, asking them to oppose the bill. Plans were underway to ensure that key Cabinet members also lobby lawmakers, said the official, who added that the legislation jeopardizes a potential deal on “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since they were children.
The Department of Homeland Security said just after midnight Thursday that the bill from the “Common Sense Coalition,” headed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), “destroys the ability” of the agency to enforce immigration laws and represents an “egregious violation” of Trump’s immigration framework.
“Instead of helping to secure the border as the President has repeatedly asked Congress to do,” the DHS statement warned, “it would do the exact opposite and make our border far more open and porous.”
In response, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said DHS “is intent on acting less like a partner and more like an adversary. Instead of offering thoughts and advice — or even constructive criticism — they are acting more like a political organization intent on poisoning the well.”
The White House’s criticism came as the bipartisan group introduced a plan that would fulfill Trump’s calls to grant legal status to 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants and would appropriate $25 billion for southern border security construction projects over the next decade — not immediately, as Trump wants. The bill also would curb family-based immigration programs, but not to the extent Trump is seeking, and it says nothing about the diversity visa lottery program.
On Thursday morning, McConnell dismissed the plan. Democrats so far have “yet to bring forward a single proposal that gives us a realistic chance to make law,” he said. “That is, pass the Senate, pass the House and earn the president’s signature.”
Schumer blasted Trump, saying the president “has not been constructive” during weeks of negotiations on immigration policy and “seems eager to spike the latest bipartisan compromise potentially with a veto.”
Defending the new bipartisan plan, Schumer admitted, “there’s a lot I don’t like in it, believe me. I think the wall will not accomplish anything, will be a terrible waste of money.”
But “compromise is compromise,” Schumer added. “Democrats and Republicans will find provisions they don’t want, wouldn’t include if they had written it. But we have to do our jobs today. We have to rise above our differences, admit that no one will get everything they want and accept painful compromises that come with democratic government.”
Last fall, Trump terminated the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had provided temporary work permits to about 690,000 dreamers. Trump set a March 5 deadline for Congress to provide a legislative solution before the bulk of the work permits would begin expiring. However, courts in California and New York have issued temporary injunctions forcing the administration to restart the program, which could render Trump’s deadline moot.
In its statement, DHS highlighted a provision in the bill that said the agency would be required to prioritize the removal of undocumented immigrants who arrived after June 30 of this year — a provision that DHS said would provide a “safe haven” to more than 10 million people already living in the country illegally.
The agency also said the bill does not do enough to curb “chain migration,” using a term that advocates say is derogatory to refer to the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor relatives to join them in the United States.
The administration official called the proposal a “giant act of sabotage” that will undermine the chances that Congress can reach a deal to provide legal status to the dreamers.
“At the end of the day, our country can never move forward on immigration policy as long Democrats continue to support this open-borders behemoth,” the official said.
On Friday, Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are scheduled to travel to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House said Pence and Nielsen are scheduled to meet with local law enforcement officials and representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In his statement responding to DHS, Graham said he was “incredibly disappointed” in Nielsen “for allowing her office to become so politicized.”
The department’s statements against bipartisan legislation “undermine confidence in DHS and make one question whether they can rationally engage with the Congress on this issue,” Graham added. “They lost credibility with this release, and that’s not good for those of us concerned about protecting our border and making sure DHS has the tools they need to best protect our nation.”
Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
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