The president’s latest proposal marked an attempt to end the 29-day shutdown, but he was swiftly rebuffed by Democrats who called it more of the same.
President Donald Trump on Saturday proposed a broad immigration deal to end the government shutdown, though Democratic leaders quickly declared his overture dead on arrival.
In an address from the White House, the president proposed a bill providing temporary protection for some undocumented immigrants along with other measures in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for his border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill will come up for a vote in the coming week, testing Democratic unity on exchanging border security funding for protections for young immigrants and refugees.
“I am here today to break the logjam and provide Congress with a pathway forward to end the government shutdown,” Trump said in remarks from the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.
But the approach had already been rejected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who said it largely repackaged a proposal that had failed earlier. Pelosi called the idea a “non-starter,” and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also panned the proposal as a way to reopen the government, even though Trump’s plan cribbed from Durbin’s own legislation.
The move offered little hope for ending the government shutdown, which entered its fifth week Saturday. The Senate was in for fewer than two hours on Saturday, and then split until Tuesday, suggesting little urgency is afoot to reopen the government.
White House officials on Saturday did not dismiss the prospect of an emergency declaration if the legislation fails.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was “skeptical” that the president’s latest approach will break the standstill in Washington on the shutdown’s 29th day.
“If there is something of substance that comes with his wall request, [Democrats] are willing to listen. But you can’t keep the government shut down while we work on it,” she said in an interview earlier Saturday. “The White House figures that the real leverage that they have is the fact that they’re holding the keys to this shutdown. And so if they release that?”
Democrats insisted they would not negotiate on anything while the government remained partially closed, but McConnell said he was moving forward anyway.
“Everyone has made their point — now it’s time to make a law. I intend to move to this legislation this week,” McConnell said.
The Senate’s Martin Luther King Day recess next week has been canceled, and senators are on 24-hours notice to return to Washington. The idea to have the Senate move a bill first came from consultations between Vice President Mike Pence, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and McConnell, all of whom met on Thursday.
“When Jared and I went and met with the Senate leadership late Thursday, it was at the president’s direction to explore the interest in the Senate in moving forward on a plan that the president unveiled today,” Pence told reporters at the White House on Saturday after the president’s remarks.
McConnell then committed to hold that vote in the coming week, Pence said.
The White House is couching the president’s proposal not just as a means of ending the shutdown, but as the opening volley in a series of conversations that could potentially result in a comprehensive immigration overhaul — a matter than has been a bipartisan priority since the Gang of Eight bill crumbled in 2013.
“This could be a step towards broader immigration reform,” Kushner told reporters, a position that was reiterated by the vice president.
Yet the White House‘s gambit seemed sure to meet a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, given the need to attract support from at least seven Democrats to pass the chamber. Several Senate Democratic moderates just lost reelection, making a rebellion against Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) highly unlikely.
Still, there were no evident GOP defections after Trump’s speech. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both endorsed the bill. Both face difficult reelection campaigns.
Trump’s endorsement of immigration protections — a three-year extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and an extension of Temporary Protected Status for the refugees who hold it — drew immediate criticism from conservatives.
Ann Coulter, who urged Trump to wage the shutdown fight over the border wall, said “Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!”
“The offer the president announced today is a loser for the forgotten American workers who were central to his campaign promises,” said Roy Beck, who leads NumbersUSA, which advocates for more restrictive immigration policies.
Pence pushed back on criticism from immigration hawks that the president had caved and reiterated that Trump intended his offer to jump-start broader discussions about immigration reform. “This is not an amnesty bill,” Pence said, arguing it does not grant citizenship or permanent residence to any of the immigrants who would be affected by the proposal.
The White House, however, thinks that with the DACA program tied up in the courts, the GOP might be able to force Democrats to the table to provide more certainty to young immigrants and refugees. In addition to wall funding and immigration protections, the president also proposed about $800 million each for drug detection technology and humanitarian assistance, more immigration judges and 2,750 new border patrol agents.
The president’s gambit is intended to turn the tables on Democrats, casting them as the unreasonable party if they refuse to negotiate. White House aides believe Democrats may be under increasing pressure to strike a deal given that federal workers are set to miss a second paycheck in the coming week.
Yet Democratic aides said they were not consulted on the matter ahead of time and deemed the offer as not serious. At a minimum the party wants permanent protections for immigrants at risk of deportation.
And even if the Republican Senate tries to take up the proposal, it’s not going anywhere in the House, Pelosi said.
“Democrats were hopeful that the President was finally willing to re-open government and proceed with a much-need discussion to protect the border,” the House speaker said shortly before the speech. “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.“
Most Senate Democrats supported $25 billion in border security in exchange for a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants last year. But Trump lobbied against it, and the party hasn’t moved an inch during the month-long shutdown and myriad offers from the White House.
There was widespread uncertainty on Capitol Hill about what, exactly, the president would offer. Republican senators moved a conference call from before his speech until after it to make sure they were discussing what he‘s actually proposing, according to GOP sources.
McConnell told Republicans that after the back and forth with Pelosi over the State of the Union address, the dynamic needed to change, a source familiar with the call said. He spoke to the president on Thursday and asked Trump to put together an offer with some Democratic incentives. Trump agreed and after more conversations between them and Pence and Kushner, McConnell agreed. The vote will occur on Thursday without cooperation.
Trump’s latest attempt at a deal came together after Kushner reached out to Democratic senators. Durbin along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are cosponsors of the BRIDGE Act, which would protect DACA recipients from deportation for three years and grant them work authorization permits.
Trump canceled DACA in 2017 and has moved to end TPS as well. “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.
Kushner and Pence have served as the White House’s liaisons to Capitol Hill during the shutdown, but have thus far been unable to strike a bargain on the president’s behalf — and lawmakers have increasingly demanded to hear from the president himself.
The president‘s Saturday announcement marked a swift reversal from the tone he struck with a bipartisan group of lawmakers just three days ago, when he described a degenerating situation on the southern border. He told them “we have the worst human trafficking in the history of the world” and that drug traffickers now weld drugs into cars so that “dogs can’t even smell them.”
In the meeting, held in the White House Situation Room, Trump told the junior lawmakers that he would not budge until he got an indication from Schumer and Pelosi that they were willing to make a deal, according to a person in the room.
He claimed his strength had grown in the polls as the shutdown had proceeded, though he declined to offer any specific numbers. Independent polling shows the opposite, and the president’s campaign team has increasingly fretted that the shutdown is kicking off his reelection effort on a sour note.
Trump also insisted he would not sign a continuing resolution to temporarily reopen the government, telling the lawmakers it would be too hard to shut down the government again after reopening it if he didn’t get the money for his wall, and that “Nancy said she’d only give me a dollar.”
“If I open it up, it’s going to be hard to shut down again.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.