WASHINGTON - President Donald 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 next 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 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 next week. And 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 Mike 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 that 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 Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey 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."
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The Washington Post's Paige Winfield Cunningham and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
CLEVELAND, Miss. - A man on his way to see President Donald Trump was speeding along a two-lane highway when his phone rang.
"Yes ma'am . . ." Joe Davidson answered. "Tell 'em your name. Tell 'em you're with me. We won't have to get in a long line. We won't have to stand out in the cold."
He hung up and pushed the accelerator. He was going to a Trump rally, his third. He was a 61-year-old man in pressed khakis, a pressed blue oxford and tortoiseshell glasses shining in the afternoon sun. He had a radar detector on his dashboard and a bag of lemon-honey cough drops on the console - "I just love these," he said, reaching in - and the view through his windshield was of wide-open Mississippi Delta: blank blue sky, harvested brown fields and little white puffs of leftover cotton trash that blew into the air as he zipped by doing a confident 85, explaining how all this came to be.
"I don't know why, but I got a phone call one day," he began.
The call, during the 2016 presidential campaign, was from a state Republican official who'd heard he was a well-connected, can-do person around the Delta town of Cleveland, in Bolivar County.
"And she said, 'Is this Joe Davidson?' And I said 'Yes.' She said, 'Joe. I hear you would be good up in that area to represent us in the Trump campaign.' I said, 'Well, let me think about it and call you back.' "
He thought about it. He loved Trump. It made him feel good to be asked.
"So, I called her back and said, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' "
And just that easily, Joe became not only the Trump campaign chair for Bolivar County, and not only a man on his way to see the president of the United States for the third time, but one of the people chosen to stand behind Trump at his rallies. He was the one on the riser, clapping and cheering as the president spoke, usually within the frame of TV cameras beaming the rally onto screens across America, where people watching sometimes shifted their attention from Trump to the people behind Trump, and often to one face, and wondered who that person was.
That person was Joe.
He was a man of some wealth, his optimism high, his confidence strong, his place in a certain American firmament secure, speeding in a gold-colored sedan to a rally at the Tupelo airport, where his VIP pass was waiting. "I'm lucky," he liked to say. "Privileged. I don't mean privileged like I'm better than anybody. I just mean privileged like I've had everything just put there in front of me."
The lucky life of Max Joseph Davidson II: A cousin was a former governor. In-laws were corporate executives. Friends were politicians and sheriffs. Joe's contacts were such that he had met the chef Anthony Bourdain, the actor Chuck Norris, the singer Michael Stipe, the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the guy who played McLovin in the film "Superbad," who had wanted to go to a college football game, which led to a call to Joe, who invited the actor to his tailgate at Ole Miss, where Joe had gone to school.
He did not mind saying that he was living on family money going back a century. His father was a cotton farmer who once owned so much land in the Delta town of Beulah that when a stranger asked where the Davidson land was exactly, Joe said, "Go to Beulah and look around." His mother grew up on an Arkansas ranch with its own commissary, and Joe was thinking about her now, driving along past miles of flat fields.
"Little Bun," he said. "That's what we called her. Had black hair to her waist. Always wore it in a bun at the nape of her neck. She was a Southern belle. Wore driving gloves. Had the most beautiful teeth at 94, the most beautiful teeth you've ever seen. You seen 'Gone with the Wind'? She was the spitting image of Vivien Leigh. Loved anything to do with the royal family. Mama didn't drink but later in life she'd drink Michelob Light and watch shows about the queen of England. Thought she was the queen of England. That tends to rub off on a child."
He was above all his mother's son, a carefree boy who became an open book of a man with enough self-awareness to understand what people must assume about a person like him in times like these. The ones who loved Trump probably figured he was a good guy. The ones who hated Trump probably assumed he was another angry white man, as if looking at one face for one moment on TV could explain a person's life.
"I got friends everywhere - I don't know why that is, maybe 'cause I ain't shy," Joe was saying, and soon his phone rang again.
"Yes ma'am," he answered. It was his sister-in-law, who was meeting him at the rally. "You told 'em you were VIP? Good. Good. All right. That's perfect."
He sped past more miles of fields with sprawling pecan trees and bales of cotton wrapped in pink plastic.
"These people got tons of mon'," he said, looking out at all the farms.
He was in good spirits. He was glad to be seeing the president again, although he had decided to be more cautious about expressing himself in front of the cameras considering what had happened to him after the last rally he'd gone to.
He had been standing behind Trump along with his friend Kenny, both wearing suits, Joe in a crisp white shirt and blue tie. They were having the time of their lives, cheering the president and feeling patriotic. As Joe put it, they were all "geehawing," an old Southernism that meant they were aligned. Then Trump went on a tear about the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, and the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused him of sexually assaulting her in high school. Trump started mocking her spotty memory, repeating "I don't remember!" and "I don't know!" over and over as people in the crowd began laughing and clapping, and Joe had joined in. He clapped and laughed and elbowed Kenny, who laughed too, and soon a video clip of the two of them was flying around the Internet. By the time Joe got back to Cleveland, friends were forwarding him angry online comments from all over the country.
"This is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen," someone wrote.
"Just like the people who would gather in the village square to cheer and jeer public executions," someone else had written.
"Shame on all of them!!!" wrote someone else.
He tried to brush it off, but the messages kept coming. When he turned on the television, there was his laughing face on the news. When he went for a beer, a friend came over and said, "Hey, you famous?" and others stopped to shake his hand. Joe posted a message on Facebook.
"Well, it's been a whirlwind since Kenny and I attended President Trumps rally in Southhaven. We have been blasted by the left on social media, called everything in the book by people who don't even know us. . .. I was in NO WAY making fun or trying to be insensitive to Dr Fords plight. . . I really believe she went through a terrible time and something did happen, but not by Judge Kavanaugh. . . We live in the greatest country in world and I am super proud to be able to do so!! God Bless America"
His Cleveland friends wrote back "YOU DA MAN!!!" and "I'm with you Joe" and "Love you! Joe for president." But Joe found himself rereading the angry messages.
"Who laughs at sexual abuse?"
"Old white men afraid they will lose their privileges."
"How can they be so uncaring?"
He was still thinking about it all as he reached the outskirts of Tupelo.
It wasn't just the angry reaction to the laughing that unsettled him, it was all the anger coming toward Trump, and by extension, Joe felt, him. If Trump was insensitive, he said, it meant Joe must be. If Trump was racist, it followed that Joe might be. He turned on the road to the airport, joining a line of cars.
"I do have feelings," he said. "I'm a good person. Isn't that what people say about me?"
He stopped at a police checkpoint, rolled down his window and looked up at the officer, squinting in the late afternoon sun.
"Yes, sir," Joe said, handing him his ID. "I got VIP parking?"
The officer looked at the license and looked at Joe's face.
"You're good," the officer said, waving him along, and he kept getting waved through one checkpoint after another until he reached the entrance for people who stand behind Trump.
"Is this VIP?" Joe asked a guard.
The man directed him onto the tarmac, where the music was blasting, and food trucks were selling hot dogs, and aides were tossing red "Make America Great Again" hats out into the crowd. Joe took his place on the metal risers behind the lectern with the presidential seal, more aware now of the rows of TV cameras and spotlights pointing in his direction.
- - -
Four hours later, feeling buoyed after hearing the president describe him and the rest of the crowd as "the men and women that make America truly great" and "hard-working patriotic Americans" with "big hearts," Joe began the trip home.
"Loved it," he said, pulling out of VIP parking. "Thought it was great."
Everything Trump had talked about, he said, he loved. The border wall and making America "respected again." Low unemployment numbers and a booming economy, which rang true to Joe, who was seeing his trust-fund check rise and new restaurants and hotels go up around Cleveland, including one affiliated with the Trump Organization. And when Trump had joked about looking like a blond Elvis when he was younger, Joe loved that too.
"I mean, how do you not agree with what he's doing?" Joe said.
He knew Trump said crass things at times. But he also thought people judged the president too harshly, just like Joe thought people had judged him too harshly for laughing. He could see how people could disagree with Trump, but he didn't see why people thought Trump was such a bad person - just as he didn't see how standing behind Trump made him a bad person. Joe Davidson: immoral person, selfish privileged person, racist person, insensitive person who would laugh at sexual assault. It wasn't at all how he saw himself.
"No how. No. Not never," he said. "That's a person with no heart."
He kept thinking about it as he pulled out of Tupelo. After a while, the traffic thinned, and he was mostly alone on the two-lane, the fields and sky pitch-dark. He turned on a classic rock station at low volume. His phone rang.
"Hey, baby," he said to his wife, who asked if her sister enjoyed the rally. "Yeah. She was eating it up. Just laughing and loving it. Yeah. Air Force One pulled right up to us. I mean right up to us. So. How you feeling? Oh, I'm sure. Aw, I bet. Well. Look, baby, I'll see you in a little while."
He hung up. He wished all the people judging him knew that he had been caring for his sick wife, who was home recovering from surgery. He wished they knew that before he left for the rally, he had taken her to the doctor to get a chemotherapy port installed. If people wanted to judge Joe Davidson, he would gladly tell them that.
And some other things. Like how he'd made a silent promise to himself when he inherited his trust fund that he wouldn't act like some rich jerk, but that he would be a good person according to all the rules he'd been taught about what that meant in a place such as Cleveland. He opened doors for the elderly. He tipped well. He said, "Love you, appreciate you!" to the lunch waitresses at the Senator's Place.
"I'm a softy," he said. "I care. It's just the way I was raised."
He would happily tell anyone who asked that he did not have to work but chose to work part time as an assistant funeral home director precisely because he considered himself a big-hearted, sensitive person. It made him feel good to comfort people.
"I remember once, it was a baby who died," he said. "I knew the family, and when we got to the house to pick him up, I said, 'Look, we're not going to take the stretcher in there. He'll look like nothin' on that stretcher.' I said, 'I'll hold him,' and I did. Held him all the way back to the funeral home. I remember his mother said, 'I'll never forget that.' "
He would love to tell all the people who said he must hate women that he had always been surrounded by strong women. His loved his wife, who was one of the strongest people he knew. He loved Little Bun, who used to sit in the back seat of his car while he drove her all over town, and was never afraid of expressing an opinion. And the woman who had essentially raised him, Edna Beatty.
"Was there from the day I was born till the day she died," Joe said. "Made me feel like I was the number one child. I've always missed her. A lot of people can't understand that."
Of all the assumptions he figured people made about him, the notion that he might be racist was the one that bothered him the most. He pointed out that Edna Beatty, for instance, was black and had been one of the most important people in his life. He wished people knew that another person he admired most in life was his high school baseball coach, Sank Powe, who was black, and who had helped ease the integration of the Cleveland public schools that Joe attended in the 1970s. Joe had recently raised money for a headstone for Powe's grave, and a monument to Powe that was installed at the high school. He had called Powe's family to make sure the inscription was OK - "I didn't want to do anything that would hurt their feelings," he said - and brought Powe's family to Cleveland for the dedication. He wished people could have seen it, how Powe's sister Dorothy had hugged him goodbye and said she would be praying for his wife, and how Joe had said "love you" as she left, and what he had said about her brother to a local TV reporter.
"He was real," Joe had said, looking in the camera. "He was real. And it was right here from his heart. He cared about you. He was there for me whenever I needed him."
These were the people who had formed him growing up in the Mississippi Delta during the '60s and early '70s, he said, a place he had always seen through the lens of his own trouble-free experience. He didn't remember seeing segregated bathrooms or water fountains in the Delta - "I just don't remember that," he said. He did not remember hearing about any racial violence, not even about Emmett Till, who was murdered in 1955 in the town of Money, about 50 miles from where Joe grew up. "Never," he said. "And we spent a lot of time in Grenada, right off Money."
He did not remember the Delta being a place of hate, not toward anyone, including him.
"Never felt any of that animosity, never," Joe said.
He sped along in the dark through a place where civil rights workers were murdered and African-Americans were routinely lynched in the name of maintaining white power in Mississippi. Joe had been spared hearing such stories growing up, and as an adult, it was nothing he wanted to dwell on.
"If I'm in my space, and there are no problems, why am I going to go looking for a problem?" Joe said.
He thought about the things he knew, and the things he did not know as fully.
He did not know much about the life and times of Edna Beatty.
"Just knew she was there," he said.
He did not know what Sank Powe's sister had said, after the dedication ceremony, about her brother's relationship to whites in Cleveland. "He made them think everything was fine," Dorothy Powe said.
He did not know much about the people who did not support Trump, who in Bolivar County were mostly black and included Willie Matthews, who had worked at the funeral home for years and was the one who had told Joe that Sank Powe's grave didn't have a headstone because his daughters had run out of money paying for their father's medical bills when he was dying. Joe and Willie played pool here and there, and lately Willie had been giving Joe a hard time about Trump.
"You going to see that liar?" Willie recalled saying to Joe every time he took off for a Trump rally, and Joe would give it right back, making fun of Willie for wearing earphones all day long, listening to the late comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory rail against Trump.
Willie, who was 60, recalled other things about his life growing up in Cleveland: that he and other young black men would never walk anywhere alone, that they would always bring a stick or a bat to the movies or wherever they went in case they had to defend themselves against whites, and that even now there was a lingering sense of danger. Not that he and Joe had talked about any of that, he said.
"He's never going to see nothing my way and I'm never going to see things his way. But we're going to remain friends," Willie said, remembering what Joe told him every time he teased him about Trump.
"Willie, that's fake news!" Joe would say without getting into it further. He did not see how anyone could think Trump was so awful.
"Is there something I'm missing?" he said now.
He sped along, tires thumping on asphalt seams.
He passed Ole Miss, where he still enjoyed his Saturday tailgates and football games like he did when he was in school.
"I had a blast there," he said. "That's God's country right there."
After a while he passed near the road to his old family farm, where he'd lived in a big, old house that one day had caught fire and burned to the ground. He missed it. He missed Edna Beatty. He missed Sank Powe. He missed Little Bun and all the people he felt had loved him, who had assured him he was a good boy and a good man.
"You always want to go back to part of your life that you loved the most," Joe said. "It was kind of my ideal back then. It was such a good time. I mean nobody had any hang-ups."
Nowadays, he said, people seemed so mad.
"It bothers me, you know? I want to be friends with everybody," Joe said. "But people look at you with a hint of curiosity, and suspicion."
He did not like being doubted.
He did not like being misunderstood.
He liked feeling good about himself, good about America and good about his place in it, standing behind the president. He glanced out the window at the clear black sky.
"Moon's pretty," he said. "That's one thing about a Delta sunset and moon and a sunrise. You're going to get it flat. It's going to be right out there."
The moon was almost full, and as Joe crossed into Bolivar County, it rose higher, lighting the empty fields and sprawling trees and the whole familiar landscape of his lucky life.
"What a great day," he said.