White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday that President Trump has asked his administration to take another look at a plan that would send migrant detainees to “sanctuary cities,” in retaliation against Trump’s political opponents.
The proposal, which was first reported by The Washington Post last week, has been rejected twice in the past six months over legal, budgetary and other concerns.
“Certainly, we’re looking at all options,” Sanders said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” She said the proposal is not an “ideal solution,” but that if Democrats refuse to negotiate with Trump on border security, the White House is prepared to “put some of those people into their communities” and see how the Democrats react.
In an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway accused an “unserious Congress” of not taking tougher action to stop migrants from crossing into the country.
“The Republicans failed to do their job when they were in charge, no doubt,” she said. “And the Democrats now are failing to come together in the House.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, said Sunday that he is planning to introduce a new immigration reform package after the Senate returns from recess, although he did not give an exact date.
The legislation “will deter people from Central America from continuing to come, change our asylum laws, make sure you have more than 20 days to deal with an unaccompanied minor and send people back to Central America,” Graham said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
The South Carolina lawmaker made clear that both the White House and Republican leaders in the Senate were reaching out to their Democratic colleagues in an attempt to gain bipartisan support for the package.
“The administration is going around Congress talking to Democrats about what they want if we do change the laws, what they would like in return,” Graham said. “I’m going to try to find a compromise here.”
Two Democratic House committee chairmen on Sunday swiftly pushed back against Trump’s targeting of sanctuary cities, accusing him of seeking to take a potentially illegal action to keep the migrant issue alive during the 2020 campaign rather than work to solve the problem.
“The president has no right to spend money appropriated by Congress for other purposes to ship immigrants all over the country,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He added that it was wrong for Trump to “use immigrants or people who are claiming political asylum as pawns in a fight against political opponents.”
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), speaking on ABC News’s “This Week,” called the plan part of the “manufactured chaos” created by Trump at the border.
“Before Donald Trump took office, we had a situation that was manageable — we had spikes, but it also went down. But what we have now is a constant pushing of the system so that it doesn’t work,” Thompson said. “Rather than being punitive, the president has to step up and provide real leadership, which he’s failed to do on immigration.”
The Post reported Thursday that the administration had been eyeing districts of political adversaries, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in which to release detainees. The disclosure of the plan — which was explicitly rejected in November and February by officials in the Department of Homeland Security — drew widespread recriminations.
Trump on Friday took ownership of the plan, declaring that he would “bring — I call them the ‘illegals’ because they enter the country illegally — to sanctuary cities and areas and let those particular areas take care of it.”
The move is another sign of Trump’s mounting frustration over his inability to stem the flow of migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico after making a promise to crack down on illegal immigration the central theme of his 2016 campaign.
Among the Democrats criticizing Trump on Sunday was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who said the president was “not really interested in a solution” and was instead aiming to energize his political base.
“My understanding is it’s not legal,” Cardin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s no budget for that purpose. This is a clearly political move for the president. He’s using the immigrants as pawns in his political game of chess.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is running for president, also took aim at the proposal.
“You can’t threaten somebody with something they’re not afraid of. And we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
According to CNN and the New York Times, during a trip to California last week, Trump told acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan that he should close the border and offered to pardon him if he ran into any legal problems resulting from the closure.
It was unclear how serious Trump was, according to the reports. But Nadler said Sunday that Trump’s reported offer of a pardon was “another instance of the president’s contempt for law” and that “deliberately seeking to break the law is unforgivable.”
Asked whether his panel would investigate the allegation, Nadler said, “It’s part of a pattern of conduct that we certainly have to take a look at after we see the Mueller report” — referring to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which is expected to be publicly released this week.
Thompson said that Democrats are willing to sit down and talk with the Trump administration — echoing comments made last week by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders — but that any effort to reach a bipartisan accord was being hamstrung by the leadership vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security, which he said have left it “rudderless.”
Nadler suggested that White House aide Stephen Miller, perhaps the most influential voice in the Trump administration on immigration policy, “ought to come before Congress and explain some of these policies.”
White House staffers typically do not appear before congressional committees, but Nadler said Miller would have little basis to refuse such a request. “He seems to be making the decisions, not the Cabinet secretaries who come and go,” the Democratic lawmaker said.
David Nakamura and Stephanie McCrummen contributed to this report.