In an address Thursday at a West Virginia resort, President Donald Trump urged House and Senate Republicans to take up and pass a controversial immigration plan “that includes a permanent solution on DACA, secures the border, ends chain migration, and cancels the visa lottery.”
“It’s a strong bill, but it’s a very fair bill,” he said, though no such bill currently exists other than a one-page “framework” released last week. Trump then suggested he would veto any alternative that comes his way. “We’ll either have something that’s fair and equitable and good and secure, or we’re going to have nothing at all.”
But in an effort to break through the current immigration stalemate paralyzing Congress, some Republicans are breaking from their embrace of President Trump’s immigration plan and suggesting a narrower path without many of the controversial cuts to legal immigration the White House has demanded.
“I think that if we can solve DACA and border security that may be the best we can hope for,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate leadership team, on Thursday.
Trump and some Republican leaders continue to insist on a package that includes not just a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and funding for walls and fences on the border, but also slashing legal immigration, particularly . But that combination has no path forward in Congress, and its prospects were further diminished by Trump’s State of the Union speech and Thursday’s address to the GOP, both of which included several false assertions about the current immigration system and inflammatory rhetoric characterizing immigrants as gang members and terrorists.
On Thursday, he further fanned the flames by telling GOP lawmakers not to think of DACA recipients as “Dreamers,” the term the young immigrants have used to identify themselves as aspiring Americans. “Don’t fall into the trap,” he said, wagging his finger from the podium. “We have dreamers in this country, too. We can’t forget our dreamers.”
“I have a lot of dreamers here,” he added, gesturing to the audience mainly comprised of older, white lawmakers.
As the March 5 deadline for protecting roughly 700,000 DACA recipients from deportation draws near, Thune and other Republicans are beginning to voice doubts about the viability of Trump’s proposal and offer more palatable alternatives.
Earlier this week, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) floated such a compromise proposal, one that protects DACA recipients from deportation and allocates billions of dollars for border security.
“Focus on what’s doable,” Portman urged his colleagues.
Portman’s plan, however, does not grant DACA recipients a path to citizenship, a potential problem for Democrats whose votes would be needed to get the bill through the Senate. And while Thune has described himself as “a fan” of the narrower bill, other GOP leaders remain hostile to the proposal.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters following the State of the Union that it would behoove Congress to fall in line behind Trump’s plan.
“He’s the President. You’re not going to get a law without his signature,” he said. “We can’t exactly ignore him.”
House conservatives are also balking at the pitch for a narrower DACA-and-border package.
Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the hardline Freedom Caucus, called it a “non-starter.” He told TPM and other reporters earlier this week that he and many in his caucus would have difficulty supporting any bill that doesn’t have all four of the “pillars” in President Trump’s plan.
“If you deal with the illegal immigration problem, you have to deal with the legal immigration problem as well. They go hand in glove,” he said. “You have to address both of them. You’re talking about a total number of people coming into the United States.”