Trump offers a deal on immigration and shutdown, and it hits a wall

On Day 29 of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, President Trump took to the White House Diplomatic Room to deliver a proposal that, he promised, would “break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward to end the government shutdown.”

Based on the reaction from Democrats, it did no such thing.

Trump, who regularly demonizes undocumented immigrants and has proposed drastic changes to the legal immigration system, presided over a well-publicized naturalization ceremony for five new Americans from the Britain, South Korea, Jamaica, Iraq and Bolivia hours before the speech, in which he struck a notably softer and more inclusive tone than usual. He spoke sympathetically of the dangers faced by Central American migrants, particularly women and children, on the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border, and praised “our nation’s proud history of welcoming legal immigrants from all over the world into our national family.”

President Trump discusses the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

The president coupled his non-negotiable demand for $5.7 billion for the construction of new physical barriers along the southern border, the major sticking point with Congress, with an offer to relax some of his opposition to programs important to Democrats.

Although he described his offer as a “common sense compromise that both parties should embrace,” it was immediately criticized from both sides: by Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who rejected it even before Trump’s speech was delivered, and by immigration hardliners among Republicans, including Iowa Rep. Steve King, who earlier in the week had been stripped of his committee assignments over racist remarks.

Trump repeated many of the funding requests outlined by the White House last week for more border patrol agents, immigration judges and new drug detection technology. Those are considered more acceptable to Democrats.

Trump’s new offer includes extensions of legal protections for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders — refugees living in the United States who face persecution or other dangers in their home countries — and the 700,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, sometimes called “Dreamers.” The Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle DACA and end TPS for several countries have been derailed by a number of legal challenges. In October, a federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction against the administration’s intention to stop renewing the legal status of 300,000 TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. On Friday, the Supreme Court indicated that it will probably not consider the Trump administration’s appeals of lower court rulings keeping DACA in place.

President Trump (center), flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (far right), participate in a Naturalization Ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House on Jan. 19, 2019. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

But his proposed extension of the two programs came with a time limit: three years. Congress could, of course, write DACA into law, but he made no commitment to sign such a bill. Even so, his proposal was denounced as “amnesty” by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who bestowed on Trump the grave insult of comparing him to his defeated primary opponent Jeb Bush:

But he won support from Senate Republicans including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and newly elected Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

Trump also proposed “measures to protect migrant children from exploitation and abuse” through a “new system to allow Central American minors to apply for asylum in their home countries.” In fact, such a system was established in 2014 under the Obama administration as part of the Central American Minors program, which was terminated by Trump’s Department of Homeland Security during his first year in office.

Yahoo News reported on Jan. 10 that Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence were working on a “DACA for the wall” deal to present to Democrats.

In a statement following the president’s address on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he intends to bring the president’s proposal to the floor, though key Democrats have already made clear that they are not interested.

Pelosi, who has repeatedly refused to accept a deal that includes any amount of money for a border wall, and has insisted that she won’t negotiate an immigration bill until Trump agrees to reopen the government, called Saturday’s offer “a nonstarter.”

“Democrats were hopeful that the president was finally willing to re-open government and proceed with a much-need discussion to protect the border,” Pelosi said in a statement issued ahead of the president’s speech on Saturday. “Unfortunately, initial reports make clear that his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”

“The president must sign these bills to reopen government immediately and stop holding the American people hostage with this senseless shutdown,” she said.

Other Democrats joined in dismissing the proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the reopening of the government first before the two sides could have “a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions.”

“It was the president who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place — offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking,” Schumer said in a statement.

Even Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who co-authored the bipartisan Bridge Act on which Trump’s latest proposal was based, said “I cannot support the proposed offer as reported and do not believe it can pass the Senate.”

On the right, in addition to King and Coulter, several think tanks and advocacy groups for controlling and limiting immigration reacted negatively to Trump’s speech.

“Trading amnesty for future promises of enforcement is always a bad deal. Trading just a quarter of what you want for a couple Democrat amnesty priorities? Even worse,” R.J. Hauman, the spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for policies to reduce immigration to the United States.

“The president should listen to his base, not Jared Kushner,” said Hauman. “One got you elected, the other is dead set on making you a one-term president.”

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