Lawmakers Face Blowback Over Trump’s Immigration Policies
President Donald Trump told House Republicans Tuesday night that he is “1,000 percent” with them as GOP leaders try to pass a sprawling immigration bill, and that he wants to see an end to his policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We gotta take care of separation,” Trump said, according to people who were in the closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol. “It’s too nasty.”
Trump, who wants to change the policy with legislation rather than reversing it unilaterally, did not take questions from House Republicans.
Technically, the president gave his endorsement to two bills — one by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that is popular with immigration hard-liners and a second “compromise” measure that reflects a deal between GOP conservatives and moderates — both of which House leaders are likely to put on the floor later this week.
“In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.
But because the Goodlatte measure is less likely to pass, and because he spoke in favor of elements that are in the other version, many lawmakers read the president’s remarks as support for the compromise bill.
He was “as strong as garlic” in his backing of the compromise bill, said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Asked if Trump had specifically endorsed the compromise bill, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., recalled Trump saying, “We need this approved.”
The compromise bill would provide nearly $25 billion in funding for Trump’s border wall, limit legal and illegal immigration, provide protection from deportation and a path to citizenship for recipients of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and reverse Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which results in undocumented families’ being detained in separate facilities.
Republicans said they still have a lot of work to do to secure votes for that plan, which some conservatives describe as “amnesty” because it would allow certain undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens.
Trump took on that issue squarely in the meeting, contending that the burden for getting citizenship would be significant and that it would be linked to the construction of the border wall.
“You have to work, work, work … then after 10, 12, maybe 13 years you have a chance to become a citizen,” Trump said. “There is no one in the room more hard-line on immigration than me, but this gives people an incentive, otherwise there is no incentive. This is a tremendous incentive. So you’re talking 12, 13 years out and then you don’t even get a green card until the wall is built so this is an incentive to get the wall built faster. People are gonna want us to build the wall. So that plus border security.”
Some Republicans credited the president with laying the groundwork to pick up new votes from GOP lawmakers wary of angering their constituents.
“For him to say he’s a thousand percent behind it, that means a lot to our members who need the political cover, if you will, on a tough vote,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who has endorsed both bills.
Trump arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday amid deep consternation among Republicans over his “zero tolerance” policy. That’s addressed in the House bills, but it’s not clear that either of them could pass the House or the Senate. The vast majority of Democrats are opposed to the House bills.
In fact, many Republicans on both sides of the Capitol were pushing back on his policy before his remarks.
“I support, and all of the Republican conference support, a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Trump himself remained focused on the big picture. “The system has been broke for many years,” the president told reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill. “It’s been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. We’re going to try and see if we can fix it.”
But it was the separation policy — which could be changed by Trump himself or by legislative action — that had roiled the debate over his priorities, turned House Republicans into critics and pushed Senate Republican leaders into open rebellion.