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Lawmakers compete to carry President's mantle on DACA as talks continue

If the "four pillars" that emerged out of the White House immigration meeting spurred anything Wednesday on Capitol H...

Posted: Jan 11, 2018 8:54 AM
Updated: Jan 11, 2018 8:54 AM

If the "four pillars" that emerged out of the White House immigration meeting spurred anything Wednesday on Capitol Hill, it was a fresh PR strategy.

A variety of competing factions continue to pursue their proposals on resolving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy President Donald Trump is seeking to end that protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

Dick Durbin says his group hopes to have an agreement before this weekend

A group of conservative leaders in the House unveiled their immigration bill

As the lawmakers touted their proposals Wednesday, though, they made an effort to explain just how their own push is the one that meets the President's wishes -- even as all of them took different approaches. The marketing underscored how essential Trump's approval is to any deal -- and how much lawmakers believe he can still be convinced.

The White House meeting settled on four check boxes for Trump's signature, although he told lawmakers he'd sign whatever the group came up with:

  • A fix for DACA recipients.
  • Money for border security.
  • Dealing with "chain migration" or family-based sponsorship.
  • Ending the diversity lottery.

As lawmakers sought to fill in the details Wednesday, they made sure to explain how their proposals related to the President's guidelines.

A conservative plan

A group of conservative leaders in the House unveiled their immigration bill, which includes a wish list of conservative requests and a number of provisions that would be nonstarters to Democrats and some moderate Republicans.

In their news conference, Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Mike McCaul of Texas, Martha McSally of Arizona and Raul Labrador of Idaho all emphasized the President's mention of their work in Tuesday's meeting, with Goodlatte and McCaul characterizing it as blessing the bill as a "starting point."

"The purpose of our legislation is pretty simple: It helps ... President Trump keep his promises to the American people to fix our broken immigration system," Labrador said, adding that a number of provisions that deal with interior immigration enforcement that are heavily controversial are actually under the category of border security, in his view.

"Whether it's the border or the interior enforcement, which is a 'legal wall,' if you will, to ensure -- to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the country," Labrador said. "All those issues are needed for border security."

A Senate group of conservatives who produced a proposal similar to the House group's released a joint statement making the same point -- that border security could encompass far-reaching immigration enforcement.

"We feel it's important to recognize that border security is more than just infrastructure," Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said in a joint statement. "Enforcement authorities must be improved so that federal law officers can protect law abiding American citizens and immigrants."

Bipartisan options

Bipartisan negotiators are also touting how their bills -- which are vastly different -- are executing the President's vision.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, a key member of a bipartisan group of six senators negotiating with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, has told reporters their group is working through a DACA, border security, diversity lottery and family migration deal, with perhaps an end to the diversity lottery in exchange for those visas going toward Temporary Protected Status recipients and the "chain migration" piece dealing only with the population of young immigrants affected by the bill, contrary to what other Republicans have said, which is that it must apply more broadly.

Durbin told reporters that his group hopes to have an agreement before this weekend and that it will meet the President's goals.

"We're close," Durbin said. "The President made it clear what's important to him, and we're trying to figure out how to do it in a thoughtful way and not just include fences and things of that nature, barriers, but to go beyond into technology, which the agency, people working there, over and over again said that's where we should start."

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin spoke to Washington's main audience of one -- saying he wanted to help the President.

"I believe President Donald Trump called for that meeting because he wanted to let the American people know he was serious," Durbin said. "He wants to show the American people he can lead. I want to help him lead if the goal is to make sure that DACA and the Dreamers ultimately have their chance to be part of America's future."

As for a meeting of the congressional No. 2's -- his Republican counterpart whip, John Cornyn of Texas, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland -- Durbin said it was "very difficult" to imagine that group would produce a product, and was visibly exasperated by the topics discussed.

He sighed, laughed and looked up at the ceiling when asked if the meeting earlier Wednesday in McCarthy's office was mostly to come up with a meeting schedule.

"Yes, that's exactly what it is. They're going to start with a staff meeting at 3:30 (Thursday) afternoon. To talk about an agenda," he said, half laughing, half sighing. "We've been at this for months. I'm going, we're participating."

Bipartisan negotiators on the House side also claimed to channel President's wishes. Reps. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, and Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat and Hispanic Caucus whip, said their bipartisan border and DACA deal, which focuses largely on a border strategy and technology, fit the bill and the other pieces can be built on.

"I still think it's a foundation for how a deal could get made," Hurd said. "We have a DACA fix, we have a border security fix. He did say that multiple times: 'We need DACA, we need border security.' We have that, and it allows him to have some physical barriers as well."

At the end of the day, lawmakers may let the President spin a deal any way he wants. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, an outspoken Trump critic, said Democrats aren't even sure the President understands what he wants.

"I think what he wants to be able to do is 'declare a victory,' " Gallego said. "I think for us, we have to worry about policy and policy outcomes -- and how he spins it, I'm indifferent to."

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