WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders fear that President Donald Trump’s staff is exploiting the president’s busy schedule to push their own agenda and undermine his pledge to protect beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
According to four political operatives working closely with Republicans, leaders in the House and Senate characterized some of the White House’s demands, which have yet to be made public, as “poison pills,” saying they are impossible to achieve and that the White House staffers’ intent is to scuttle the deal for political gain.
The focus of their anger is on Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, who drafted the principles and has been behind several other controversial White House initiatives, including the ban on travel from several Muslim-majority nations. He is one of the few hard-right conservatives remaining in the White House after the departure of Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Time is running out on the young people brought illegally to the United States as children after Trump ended the known as DACA, which shielded about 800,000 from deportation.
It’s an urgent situation by Washington standards as Republican leaders seek a quick solution before midterm campaign season. They do not want to be blamed for the program’s end and are scrambling for a solution before DACA protections start expiring on March 6.
Leaders in both the Senate and House not only see the proposals coming from the White House as running afoul of the tentative agreement Trump discussed with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a Sept. 13 dinner at the White House. They also are unlike what Trump has described in public and private meetings with Republican leaders, according to Republican operatives working on the issue on Capitol Hill.
What Republicans say Trump agreed to was a proposal that would protect the DACA beneficiaries, but that also included additional border security. But the White House’s principles also include measures for reducing legal immigration, interior enforcement and implementing workplace enforcement that will make it difficult to attract Democratic and even some Republican support.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that the administration will soon lay out Trump’s principles for “responsible immigration reform.”
“You can count on that to happen very soon,” Sanders said. “And that’s all part of the process moving forward. But he hasn’t been unclear about what his position is on that front.”
The White House did not respond to questions about concerns in Congress. Neither did the staff of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he wouldn’t be able comment on “an anonymous source’s characterization of principles that have not yet been released.”
But those who support stronger enforcement proposals say they’re not surprised leaders are pushing back. On immigration, leadership is largely aligned with Democrats, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who has been pushing similar proposals for years.
But Krikorian and other enforcement advocates, such as Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, say border security is simply not enough.
Considering how many illegal immigrants actually arrive in the country legally, any proposal must include E-Verify, an online database that checks the work eligibility of new hires, Krikorian said. It also must address chain migration, which refers to citizens or permanent residents sponsoring relatives or the clustering of certain immigrants in the same areas.
“If you amnesty the DACAs without changing chain migration, you’re just amnestying their parents with a time delay,” Krikorian said.
Krikorian criticized Republicans who charged that Miller was taking advantage of Trump and accused the operatives of trying to cause trouble for Miller.
“Trump may be a bore, but he’s not a fool,” Krikorian said. “This is not slipping a line in a speech.”
Some members of Congress are asking where White House chief of staff John Kelly is. He was supposedly told to bring order to battling factions inside and outside the White House.
Trump struggled for months over what to do about DACA. He wavered between describing the program as “amnesty” to promising to deal with the problem with heart.
He continued to struggle after ending the program, expressing hope that Congress would find a way to protect the young immigrants permanently. He has also sent mixed messages, including several Twitter posts that said DACA beneficiaries are safe and that he would “revisit” the issue if Congress didn’t work out a deal.
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