One of the more tiresome clichés in Washington is that if both ends of the political spectrum are lighting their hair on fire over a proposal, then the authors of that proposal must be doing something right. That was the charitable defense of the immigration framework released by the White House on Thursday night, which proposed a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million immigrants in return for a massive increase in border-security funding and a permanent crackdown on who is lawfully admitted into the country.
Another possibility: If both ends of the spectrum are lighting their hair on fire over a proposal, the proposal is dead-on-arrival because no one likes it. The White House’s immigration proposal appears to be dead for that very reason, and the reactions to it demonstrate just how difficult it will be to get a DACA bill to the president’s desk that he will sign into law.
The headline figure that drew the most attention was the White House’s willingness to offer a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million Dreamers, either recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or those eligible for it. In exchange, the White House asked for a whopping $25 billion for border security, an elimination of the visa lottery (and redistribution of those visas to existing immigration backlogs), and sharp cuts to family visa sponsorships.
On the right, Breitbart took exception to the citizenship provision and labeled its treasured president “Amnesty Don.” Others, either out of their own paranoia or in an appeal to the president’s, have warned that the White House proposal lays the groundwork for impeachment in 2019. “This is the beginning of the end of the GOP majority in the House,” one House Republican told Politico. “In a year when the Democrats impeach Trump, we can point to this moment.”
Mark Krikorian, National Review’s chief immigration restrictionist, argues that the White House kneecapped House Republicans’ preferred bill—the product of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte—thus “making it more likely that either there will be no bill at all or that any final bill the president signs (which is guaranteed to be even weaker than this) will fatally demoralize Republican voters in November.” “If the latter happens,” Krikorian writes, “the president will be well on the way to joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton in the impeached-but-not-removed club.”
And Republicans are more keen on the idea than Democrats.
Democrats do not take seriously a proposal that offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers in exchange for the most far-reaching restrictions on legal immigration in 100 years. While the Gang of Six proposal reached by Sens. Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin, and others would prohibit newly legalized Dreamers from sponsoring their parents (but still would have offered those parents renewable legal status), the White House framework would limit all family sponsorships to just spouses and minor children. In other words, sponsorships for parents, siblings, and adult children would be eliminated. The framework doesn’t say that those visas would be redistributed to another category, either, meaning there would just be vast legal immigration cuts. This isn’t a “DACA deal.” It’s a hawkish overhaul of the American immigration system with a small section devoted to Dreamers—or as the Dreamers’ rights group United We Dream called it, “a white supremacist ransom note.”
The hawk behind this plan, White House aide Stephen Miller, suggested this is the sort of bill that could get 60 votes in the Senate and earn the president’s support. I have a hard time seeing it get 50 (or even 45) votes in the Senate, or a majority in the House.
The White House proposal doesn’t advance the process of reaching a deal, but instead reveals just how far apart the two sides are from even agreeing on which issue they’re trying to resolve. The idea for months was to match protections for Dreamers with boosts to border security. Democrats are still on that page, while many Republicans, including the one in the White House, now seem to believe that the goal is a rewrite of the country’s legal immigration policies.
The big question before and after the release of the White House’s document is the same: What will House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump do if and when a bipartisan bill passes the Senate? The open process to which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “committed” earlier this week could produce a bill, like the Gang of Six proposal, that passes with a mix of Democrats and center-right Republicans. Does Trump sign on to it? Does Ryan call it to the floor for a vote without the president’s support? Barring some magical “breakthrough” in negotiations that pleases everyone, these are the key choices that will have to be made sooner or later.