WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday voiced opposition to the White House’s immigration proposal aimed at breaking a congressional impasse over a long-term budget deal, prompting President Trump to lash out at him and injecting renewed uncertainty into the negotiations.
Schumer (D., N.Y.) waited overnight to react to the plan, which would provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, along with increased border security and cuts to legal immigration channels. In a tweet, Schumer called it a “wish list that anti-immigration hard-liners have advocated for years.”
The criticism did not sit well with Trump, who responded on Twitter by taunting Schumer for taking a political “beating” in the recent government shutdown fight and accusing him of making an immigration deal “increasingly difficult.”
Using the derogatory nickname “Cryin’ Chuck” that Trump coined last year, the president mocked Schumer for being “unable to act on immigration.” That appeared to be a suggestion that criticism Schumer took from Democrats and progressive groups for his handling of the shutdown had complicated his political calculations on immigration.
The fresh dispute illustrated the difficult path forward for Congress as it negotiates ahead of a Feb. 8 must-pass government spending bill. Many Democrats and some Republicans have said they will not support a long-term funding bill that does not provide deportation protections for 690,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” who were enrolled in a deferred action program Trump terminated last fall.
The Senate’s failure to strike an immigration deal last week resulted in a three-day partial shutdown before lawmakers agreed Monday on a three-week funding extension that reopened government offices. Despite Trump’s taunts of Schumer, some polls suggested more Americans blamed Trump and Republicans for the shutdown than they did Democrats.
“This is a clear signal the White House can’t be relied upon to negotiate in good faith,” Greg Chen, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said of Trump’s tweet.
On Friday, Ben Marter, communications director for Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), a lead negotiator, said Democrats have not been briefed by the White House. In a tweet, Marter said the White House canceled a briefing for a bipartisan group of senators that had been set for Monday with Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
“We have yet to receive so much as a fact sheet,” Marter wrote.
White House aides said Kelly remained in Washington during Trump’s two-day visit to an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, to continue talks with Congress. But Kelly had not visited lawmakers as of Friday afternoon.
In addition to a citizenship path for dreamers that could take 12 years, the president is seeking $25 billion for a border wall and other security measures, as well as the elimination of legal immigration visas for parents and siblings of U.S. citizens.
The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said the proposed cuts to legal immigration could amount to an annual decrease of at least 288,000 green cards – 36 percent of the total number issued to family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Democrats, including Durbin, have widely denounced the plan as a White House attempt to use the dreamers as “ransom” to dramatically curtail legal immigration levels and bolster deportations with costly increases in immigration agents and judges.
On the other side, immigration restrictionist groups with close ties to House conservatives also panned the deal, saying the cuts to legal immigration will take too long. Though the White House plan eliminates some categories of family visas, it allows a waiting list of 4 million applications already in the pipeline to be processed, which could take more than a decade.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in the National Review that if Trump’s framework becomes law it “will fatally demoralize Republican voters in November.”
Trump is entering a crucial stretch for his proposal. On Tuesday, he will deliver the State of the Union address to a bicameral gathering of Congress, and aides confirmed he will make a case for his immigration agenda during the speech.
In the days after the speech, the president is reportedly eyeing a visit to San Diego to review prototypes for his proposed border wall. The Department of Homeland Security has requested $18 billion to build and refurbish a total of 700 miles of walls and fencing.
Trump’s Twitter attack on Schumer – made as the president was flying back from Davos to Washington aboard Air Force One – came just hours after he had suggested he would take a more diplomatic tone in the immigration talks.
Before Schumer had publicly reacted to the bill, Trump was asked in an interview with CNBC on Friday whether Democrats were prepared to shut down the government a second time in three weeks if an immigration deal is not reached.
“No,” Trump said. “Because you look at every poll, it said they made a mistake.”
He added: “I don’t want to say Schumer got badly beaten. Why should I do that? I’m negotiating with someone – I’m not going to say he got badly beaten.”