Trump Makes Likely Final Immigration Offer

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to comments during a meeting with members of Congress and U.S. law enforcement about crime and immigration issues, specifically the MS-13 gang, at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

But it risks losing some immigration hardliners.

This Wednesday the Trump administration formally backed an immigration plan from Sen. Chuck Grassley (with the president concurrently backing an even more hardline House plan from Rep. Bob Goodlatte). The topsy-turvy nature of the immigration debate has further exposed the Republican Party’s internal rifts, leading some to conclude there is no deal to be had.

White House staffers sought to counter that narrative today with one more offer on what many see as the raison d’etre of the Trump presidency. The White House feels it has run out of space—it’s the Grassley bill or nothing—anything more conservative won’t have the votes in the Senate, anything more liberal is assured doom in the House. A White House official explained today that this course of action—backing the Grassley bill—represented “a balanced middle ground,” that is “something that could become law” and something that “could pass the House,” the more conservative chamber.

Notably, the official also noted that various other proposals advanced by Democrats were “never supported by the [Department of Homeland Security]” and certainly not the Department of Justice.

“Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle,” the president said on Twitter on Tuesday night.

The early reviews on Grassley, sponsored with Trumpists like Sen. Tom Cotton, are quite favorable on the right: the proposed legislation is seen as much better than the apprehensions that surfaced last month when the president temporarily floated the idea of conceding on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival [DACA] without concessions from Democrats on other issues. “It seems like a good deal to me,” says Julius Krein, the editor of American Affairs.

A trouble spot is that some senators, including Republicans, continue to negotiate separately from the White House, forcing the administration to spend time quickly swatting down a profusion of different ideas. A prime example: Sen. John McCain, a long-time proponent of immigration, continues to be a thorn for the White House, sponsoring an amendment with the Democratic Senator Chris Coons.

DHS immediately said Wednesday that McCain-Coons pitch is a “mass legalization” proposal and one that “grants immediate status to millions of illegal aliens—including dangerous criminal aliens and convicted felons.” Further, per DHS, McCain-Coons “surges chain migration” and maintains the controversial visa lottery. “The White House opposes the McCain-Coons immigration proposal,” Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.

But a White House official noted numerous times Wednesday that the administration is making significant concessions to woo some Democratic votes, namely dropping mandatory E-Verify, a “Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States,” per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “It’s the best way employers can ensure a legal workforce.”

Cutting mandatory E-Verify is a curious omission. On Tuesday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, perhaps Congress’ most stalwart immigration liberal, said he was open to it. The administration “calculated that Dems would be more opposed to mandating E-Verify than to ending the visa lottery & chain migration. Not sure they were right, but it was attempt to offer plan that might get 9 Dem votes in Senate,” tweeted Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Instead, the White House charged full-force with an appeal to working class Democrats, including an explicit call-to-action from likely 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders.

One White House official piggybacked onto a meme that has emerged online in recent weeks: past clips from Sanders espousing more skeptical views toward unfettered immigration. As late as 2015, as a presidential candidate, the Vermonter infamously called the idea of open borders “a Koch brothers’ proposal.” It should be noted that among those on board with the Grassley bill is White House legislative director Marc Short, a longtime ally of the Kochs.

But Sanders, in 2007, also opposed the Bush administration-supported, Kennedy-McCain comprehensive immigration reform attempt, telling Lou Dobbs, an ardent supporter of President Trump: “What happens in Congress is to a very significant degree dictated by big money interests. And these guys are basing their—their whole ideology is based on greed. They're selling out American workers.” Sanders added: “I don't know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers.” The legislation went nowhere.

But liberal interest groups were quick to combat the attempt by the administration to shift any potential failure in getting an deal done onto the Democrats.