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White House readies immigration plan amid uproar over Trump’s ‘go back’ remarks

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner presents the Trump administration’s immigration plan during a meeting Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner presents the Trump administration’s immigration plan during a meeting Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg News)
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As the uproar over President Trump’s racist remarks demanding four minority Democratic lawmakers “go back [to countries] from which they came” continued to flare Tuesday, the White House prepared to roll out a plan that would detail the type of immigrants the administration wants to admit to the United States. 

But the ongoing controversy over Trump’s comments got in the way of the White House’s initial plans, as a late-afternoon meeting with a half-dozen congressional Republican leaders on the administration’s new immigration bill was abruptly postponed amid an unexpectedly drawn-out fight on the floor of the House as lawmakers debated condemning Trump’s racist tweets.

That interruption Tuesday is far from the only obstacle the White House will face this year as it tries to generate momentum for its new immigration plan, which aims to reorient the current legal immigration system to one based primarily on an immigrant’s ability to contribute to the economy, rather than on family ties.

Senior Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday immediately began downplaying the prospects of the White House’s proposal — an effort led primarily by senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law — even before they had been briefed on its details.

“To get it to the floor, you have to have some bipartisan buy-in,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s second-ranking Republican. “There would have to be a lot of work that would get done, and I don’t sense that they’re anywhere close to having done that work with Republicans, let alone with Democrats.”

In private, senior Republicans were more skeptical of the plan’s fate. One GOP senator said, “I don’t think there’s any chance that we have any bandwidth to do that,” while a senior Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not intend to “waste time” on legislation that has little chance of garnering the necessary 60 votes to advance in the Senate.  

The White House did not indicate when or if the immigration briefing for the GOP leaders would be rescheduled. McConnell, Thune, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had been invited to attend. 

In Tuesday’s meeting with Cabinet officials, Kushner previewed some details of the 620-page legislation and said the administration had worked with roughly two dozen GOP senators’ offices in drafting its bill. 

One administration official said about 10 Senate Republicans have agreed to co-sponsor the legislation, although the official declined to name who they are. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a close ally of Kushner from their time working on criminal justice issues, is expected to be one of them.

The administration proposal is estimated to generate $580 billion in new revenue over 10 years, according to an analysis of the legislation conducted by the Council of Economic Advisers, the official said. White House aides have previously described a new point-based system that ranks prospective immigrants on factors such as educational levels, English-speaking abilities and professional skills.

After Kushner briefed Cabinet officials on the administration’s plan, Trump called it “common-sense.” 

“It’s a plan where we’ve studied almost every country,” Trump said Tuesday. “Some good. Some bad. Some tremendously successful. Some not successful at all. And this is the best of everything. And it gives incentive to people.” 

The White House privately acknowledges the immigration plan probably will not advance in its current form, and Republican officials on Capitol Hill view it primarily as a messaging document that gives the GOP an immigration platform to rally around. 

“I think a merit-based approach makes sense, and most of our members agree with that,” Thune said. “But, again, to get an immigration bill, to get 60 [votes] in the Senate and the Democrat House to vote for it, it’s gonna be a very heavy lift.” 

The issue of immigration has only become more polarizing as the Trump administration took a series of steps to address the ongoing humanitarian challenges at the border, such as a new, restrictive asylum policy unveiled this week that disqualifies most asylum seekers passing through Mexico to reach the southern U.S. border.