- A group of lawmakers are accusing White House staff of sabotaging their immigration deal with the president.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham said “something happened” in a period of two hours last Thursday that changed President Donald Trump’s mind on the deal entirely.
- Trump and hardline Republicans have dismissed the bipartisan deal, saying it did not go far enough in implementing certain immigration restrictions.
Several lawmakers who helped craft a bipartisan deal resolving the fate of young unauthorised immigrants said Tuesday they were on the verge of bringing President Donald Trump aboard when suddenly, within hours, he changed his tune entirely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, appeared exasperated in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, venting to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about how there appeared to be “two Trumps” surfacing at different points in the negotiations.
The first Trump, he said, had approached lawmakers last Tuesday with a spirit of bipartisanship, vowing in a remarkable public meeting to enact a “bill of love” that protected the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who are protected temporarily under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The second Trump, Graham continued, went from voicing support for a bipartisan proposal to protect the Dreamers during a 10 a.m. phone call last Thursday, to shooting it down entirely and reportedly referring to foreign nations as “shithole countries” during a White House meeting just two hours later.
“So what happened between 10 and 12?” Graham asked Nielsen, who responded that she didn’t know. “I don’t either and I’m going to find out,” Graham continued.
“Tuesday we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood that immigration had to be bipartisan, you had to have border security,” he said. “But he also understood that you had to do it with compassion. I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back.”
‘This has turned into a s—show’
Graham attributed Trump’s apparent change of heart to “really bad advice” given to him by his White House staff, including chief of staff John Kelly.
“This has turned into a s—show, and we need to get back to being a great country,” Graham said.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was also part of the bipartisan group of lawmakers, said the group had been “sandbagged” by Trump and his team when they arrived at the White House last Thursday.
Durbin told CNN that Kelly and White House adviser Stephen Miller “invited five other members of Congress who are not in favour of immigration reform, in a very harsh sense, and they were there to refute any assertions … that this was good policy.”
He added that “any attempt to kill immigration reform probably has Mr. Miller’s fingerprints on it.”
Graham and Durbin’s frustration echoed that of numerous lawmakers who have been scrambling to forge a deal on the Dreamers in recent weeks, as deadlines for both government funding and DACA’s termination draw closer. Congress must pass a spending measure by Friday to avert a government shutdown, and it’s unclear if Democrats will withhold their votes unless a DACA fix passes.
The bipartisan proposal would have offered a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers after 10 years and offered some funding for border-security measures, though it was not the $US18 billion Trump demanded. The deal would also make headway toward reforming family-sponsored immigration categories – which Trump and his allies refer to as “chain migration” – by offering three-year, renewable work permits to the parents of Dreamers, but making them ineligible to be sponsored for citizenship.
The deal also proposed reallocating visas from the diversity visa lottery program to immigrants already in the United States, whose permits under the Temporary Protected Status are being terminated by the Trump administration.
‘Do you understand leverage?’
According to Graham, Durbin briefed Trump on the deal last Thursday over the phone, and had “the best conversation ever with the president.” But when Graham and Durbin arrived two hours later at the White House to follow up, Trump was accompanied by several other Republican lawmakers and immigration hardliners, and dismissed their deal entirely.
Those measures, Trump and some of the Republicans said, did not go far enough in addressing their immigration wish list, which includes funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery entirely.
“It wasn’t a serious proposal. It was not viewed as a serious proposal because it did so little to address the immigration issues that the president has been vocal about,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus,told The Washington Post. “If I had to put it in a 1-to-10 range, with 10 being the most conservative and 1 being the most liberal, I would give it a 2.5.”
Nielsen offered a similar argument in her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on Tuesday, telling lawmakers that the bipartisan proposal didn’t adequately address Trump’s stated four short-term immigration goals: resolving DACA, enhancing border security, and eliminating “chain migration” and the diversity visa lottery.
Graham shot down that logic in the hearing, arguing that Trump and other Republicans could hardly expect that Democrats would give up their only bargaining chip in one fell swoop – otherwise “they won’t have any leverage when it comes to the rest of the 11 million” unauthorised immigrants estimated to be living in the US.
“I’m not going to give the 11 million legal status and hope that one day y’all will deal with us on border and immigration,” Graham said, offering an example of leverage. “Do you understand leverage? Do you think the president understands leverage?”
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