The Dispute Dividing the GOP Over Immigration

Trump and McConnell chitchat at the GOP retreat. But Trump wishes McConnell would catch his hint about a broader and meaner immigration deal. Photo: Tom Williams

For most of 2017, the dynamics of an immigration deal in Congress were abundantly clear: relief for Dreamers would be exchanged for border security resources. Yes, there were major areas of uncertainty on both issues. How many Dreamers would qualify for DACA-style protections? Would a path to citizenship be included? And would border security funding include Trump’s wall?

But then the hard-liners in the House GOP and in the White House began to make their own pitch for a broader and more conservative deal. In the House, they shaped the Goodlatte bill, which only gives Dreamers a three-year renewable legal status (not a path to citizenship), and goes beyond border control measures to pursue sharp cutbacks in legal immigration, along with an end to “chain migration” and the current diversity visa lottery — items borrowed from the better-known restrictionist Cotton-Perdue bill in the Senate.

And when the official White House proposal was revealed last week by presidential adviser Stephen Miller, it tracked most of the Goodlatte bill’s provisions, adding to them the concession that Dreamers would get a path to citizenship after ten to twelve years.

But the Senate Republican leadership hasn’t abandoned the old Dreamers-for-border-resources framework. And this was a major source of friction at the congressional Republican retreat this week, with Senate leaders promoting a “two-pillar” approach and House conservatives insisting, like the White House, on a “four-pillar” template, as Roll Call reports:

“My own view is if we can solve DACA and border security, that may be the best we can hope for,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune told reporters here Thursday….

“Making a suggestion that a two-pillar answer is going to get support in the House is a nonstarter,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters at the GOP retreat.

The president’s prepared remarks for his own speech at the retreat —which were otherwise mostly a brag-fest about the economy and the success of his State of the Union address — pointedly backed up the four-pillar demand:

“Nearly seven in 10 Americans support an immigration reform package that includes a permanent solution on DACA, secures the border, ends chain migration, and cancels the visa lottery. These are the four pillars of the White House framework — a plan that will finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

“I know that the Senate is planning to bring an immigration bill to the floor in the coming weeks, and I am asking today that the framework we submitted be the bill that the Senate votes on.”

But when he actually delivered the remarks, with Mitch McConnell standing by, he dropped the demand that the Senate do immigration his way.

Is Trump waffling? Or did he just not want to show up ol’ Mitch in front of the troops? That’s unclear. It’s also unclear whether strong Democratic opposition to the “four pillars” approach will eventually put a narrower scope for a deal back on the table — or whether, as many observers suspect, the whole idea is to force Democrats once again into a position of shutting down the government over immigration, and in this case by rejecting a deal that’s generous to Dreamers but not anyone else.

The Dispute Dividing the GOP in the Debate Over Immigration