by Niall Stanage · May 16, 2019
President Trump unveiled a new immigration plan on Thursday in the White House Rose Garden, only to be met by outrage from liberals and ambivalence from conservatives.
The reaction underscored how troublesome the politics of immigration is for the administration, especially when it departs from the simpler — if polarizing — path of the president’s calls to build a border wall.
The new proposal urges a shift from an immigration system based primarily around family relationships to one based around education and job skills. It was largely the brainchild of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
But the plan is noticeable as much for what it does not contain as for what it does — and for its slim chances of making it through Congress while Democrats control the House.
It includes no details on what is to be done about the millions of people living in the United States without authorization, nor any specifics about a guest worker program or the fate of young people covered by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was ended by Trump.
“The plan doesn’t address DACA! How can you not address that?” said one source in Trump’s orbit, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.
Asked about that point by a reporter Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded: “Every single time that we have put forward, or anyone else has put forward, any type of immigration plan that has included DACA, it’s failed. It’s a divisive thing.”
Sanders added that the new plan was “focused on a different part” of the immigration issue.
Trump loyalists fear that the proposal is not hard-line enough to please his #MAGA base, even as they tacitly acknowledge it stands little chance of winning over centrist or liberal skeptics of the president.
To that extent, it feeds the suspicions of people in and around Trump, who have long looked askance at what they consider to be Kushner’s more moderate politics. The fact that he worked on the proposal with Stephen Miller, a senior adviser known for his hard-line views on immigration, has not assuaged those concerns.
The proposal itself would not reduce levels of legal immigration, and it does not mandate the use of validation process E-Verify, two big issues for conservatives.
But it is hardly liberal either — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday blasted even its basic framework, asserting that references to “merit-based” immigration are “condescending” because, in her view, they imply there is no merit to family-based migration.
Pelosi also called the plan “dead on arrival.”
That leaves an unusual situation where Trump loyalists and liberals are asking the same question: What’s the point?
“There’s just no way to take this seriously — as politics or policy,” said Frank Sharry, the founder and executive director of America’s Voice, which favors a more liberal approach to immigration.
“There’s nothing to see here because it’s going nowhere,” he added. “It will divide Republicans and repel Democrats. You have to ask, besides coddling the boy prince, what’s the point?”
Sharry’s mocking reference to “the boy prince” was to Kushner.
A GOP consultant whose views on immigration are diametrically opposed to Sharry’s mirrored the complaint.
“It’s put together by a son-in-law who fails to understand either the politics of immigration or the Trump base,” the consultant said.
On Capitol Hill, the proposal was seen as just another shot in the messaging wars as the 2020 election looms, rather than a substantive plan.
“The White House’s plan is not designed to become law. … The White House plan is trying to unite the Republican Party,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
According to that theory, the plan will give the GOP a positive and somewhat moderate-sounding pitch to make to voters who might otherwise be uneasy with Trump’s “Build The Wall” sloganeering.
But there is a contrary view: that Trump’s vigorous views on immigration played a key part in his 2016 election and it is politically foolish to try to soften them now.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter hit the plan on Twitter, saying the absence of any proposals on DACA “means … yet another year goes by with no enforcement against millions of illegal aliens.”
In a follow-up tweet, Coulter — who has clashed with the president before on this issue and had her influence derided by him in return — complained about the apparent willingness to maintain unchanged levels of immigration.
“And this is the rube-bait campaign document, not even a serious bill,” she concluded.
Other immigration conservatives were more cautious.
Roy Beck, president of the conservative group NumbersUSA, issued a statement offering praise to Trump for “giving priority attention to trying to fashion an immigration system that would better serve the interests of the American people.”
But he added, “I look forward to details on how the plan moves toward that priority.”
Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, another conservative group, told The Hill the proposal was “a very good outline of what a responsible public-interest immigration policy ought to be.”
But he also added: “I didn’t say it was a perfect plan. As far as it goes, it’s a good plan.”
That kind of lukewarm praise seemed to be the best the White House could hope for, on a plan that seems to please few and irk many.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. Jordan Fabian and Jordain Carney contributed.
The Hill · by Niall Stanage · May 16, 2019