President Trump on Saturday offered Democrats three years of deportation protections for some immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, a proposal immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as amnesty.
Aiming to end the 29-day partial government shutdown, Trump outlined his plan in a White House address in which he sought to revive negotiations with Democrats, who responded that they would not engage in immigration talks until he reopened the government.
Trump proposed offering a reprieve on his attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from some Latin American and African nations, in exchange for building hundreds of miles of barriers on the southern U.S. border and hiring thousands of new law enforcement agents to be deployed there.
“This is a common-sense compromise both parties should embrace,” Trump said. He added: “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen.”
But the initial reaction to the offer from Democrats and conservative border hawks was hostile, raising doubts that it would be enough to break an impasse that has resulted in 800,000 federal workers being furloughed or forced to work without pay and numerous government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, operating at minimal staffing levels.
The shutdown has become the longest in U.S. government history.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the proposal as a “non-starter” and vowed that Democrats would pass legislation in the coming week to reopen the government, putting the onus on the Republican-led Senate to follow suit.
“The president must sign these bills to reopen government immediately and stop holding the American people hostage with this senseless shutdown,” Pelosi said. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also said he opposed the plan.
Moving ahead on Trump’s plan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that he would put the legislation on the Senate floor for a vote in the coming week. Trump heralded the package as a bipartisan, “compassionate response” that would offer humanitarian relief on the border and curb illegal immigration — while allowing the government to reopen.
McConnell laid out his plan in a private call with GOP senators late Saturday afternoon, where there was little dissent, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
In addition to its immigration provisions, the package — which McConnell could move to advance as early as Tuesday, although a Thursday vote appears more likely — would reopen all parts of the government that are closed. It also would provide emergency funding for U.S. areas hit by hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.
The package would include an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
Senior White House aides cast the proposal as a good-faith effort from the president to incorporate ideas from Democrats during weeks of talks with a negotiating team led by Vice President Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
In a briefing for reporters after Trump’s remarks, the aides acknowledged that the bill faces a difficult path in the Senate, where it would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But they predicted that ordinary Americans would view the plan as a compromise and pressure lawmakers to make the deal.
“I hope once people get past their initial statements, initial reaction, they will really look at the legislation that comes to the floor and see what it is — a sincere effort by the president of the United States to take ideas from both political parties,” Pence said of lawmakers.
The shutting down of some 25 percent of the federal government was triggered by Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles of new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pelosi has called the wall “immoral,” and Democrats are refusing to offer more than $1.3 billion, maintaining existing funding levels for border barriers and fences. Democrats also frequently point out that Trump long claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall.
Trump’s offer would not provide the path to permanent legal status — or citizenship — for DACA beneficiaries that many Democrats have sought in any immigration deal that dramatically ramps up border security. The DACA program, which began in 2012 under President Barack Obama, has provided renewable work permits to more than 700,000 undocumented young immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought into the country when they were children.
Trump appealed to “rank-and-file” Democratic lawmakers, hoping to peel them away from leadership, but many issued statements of opposition moments after his 13-minute speech.
Trump’s proposal also was pilloried by some of the most influential border hawks, including conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter, who said in a tweet that the proposal was “amnesty.”
“We voted for Trump and got Jeb!” she wrote, referring to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who had a more moderate immigration position when campaigning for the presidency.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a longtime anti-immigration voice in the House, blasted Trump’s offer, and the conservative news website Breitbart noted that most of the border would remain without a wall under the plan.
Pence vehemently disputed the suggestion that the plan was a betrayal of Trump’s hard-line border agenda. “This is not an amnesty bill,” he said, noting the deportation protections are temporary under the plan.
Some congressional Republicans tried to bolster the president.
“This bill takes a bipartisan approach to reopening the closed portions of the federal government,” McConnell said in a statement.
Yet McConnell’s decision to advance the bill to the Senate floor in the coming days marks a reversal of his promise not to hold votes on legislation that did not already have explicit support from the White House and Democratic leaders.
The calculus for the majority leader changed as the shutdown has dragged on, people familiar with his thinking said, pointing to Pelosi’s letter to Trump on Wednesday suggesting he postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address until the government reopens. That moment, the sources said, convinced McConnell that Pelosi would not negotiate without further incentives.
McConnell spoke to Trump Thursday afternoon, asking the president to add legislative sweeteners for Democrats, and Trump agreed, the official said.
Saturday’s offer also marks a reversal for Trump, who had indicated for weeks that he would not include DACA in the talks.
Trump had said he was hoping the Supreme Court would hear an appeal to a lower court’s injunction on his attempt to end the program; a high court ruling in his favor would give him more leverage.
But the Supreme Court signaled Friday that it might not take the case, meaning Trump cannot end the program for the time being.
On TPS, Trump has declared an end to a program that has offered hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan the right to remain in the United States after they were uprooted from their home countries during natural disasters and other emergencies. But that move also has been enjoined by federal courts.
White House aides said the president’s proposal was an echo of a bipartisan bill called the “Bridge Act,” previously offered by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), that would have provided a three-year renewal of DACA-style protections from deportation — a period in which it was hoped lawmakers would pass a comprehensive immigration bill that included a permanent solution.
But Trump’s proposal was far smaller in scope, covering fewer immigrants, and Democrats said his plan was akin to trading “permanent” border wall for “temporary” protections for immigrants that Trump could reverse in a second term.
Asked about that criticism, Pence replied: “I read that turn of phrase.” He then paused and changed the subject.
Durbin issued a statement saying he opposed the offer.
After his speech, Trump joined a call with House Republicans, stressing his desire to finalize a deal with Democrats, according to an official on that call. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, also detailed to Republican lawmakers the administration’s case for a wall, as well as for additional border security resources to “stop the flow of crime, drugs and trafficking coming over the southern border,” the official said.
Other Trump aides said they think the president has the legal authority to declare a national emergency at the border, which could allow him to redirect Pentagon funding to a build a border wall, but they said Trump prefers a negotiated solution.
At the White House on Saturday morning, Trump continued to point to a new “caravan” of Central American migrants crossing into Mexico from Guatemala, which was featured on “Fox & Friends,” a show the president watches regularly.
“If we had a wall, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Trump told reporters.
Ahead of his afternoon remarks from the White House, Trump oversaw a naturalization ceremony in the Oval Office for five new Americans, who recited the Oath of Allegiance, led by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. They had come to the United States from Iraq, Bolivia, Britain, South Korea and Jamaica.
The image of the new citizens raising their hands in the Oval Office was meant to underscore Trump’s support of foreigners who enter the country through legal immigration programs, even as his administration has supported policies to slash overall immigration.
“Each of you worked hard for this moment,” Trump told them. “You followed the rules, upheld our laws, and contributed to the strength and success and vitality of our nation.”
Paige Winfield Cunningham, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner contributed to this report.