Draft deal on DACA hits wall; Trump remarks raise racial-bias cries

Posted: January 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Sen. Jeff Flake said Thursday that the senators working on an immigration bill have an agreement in principle, but Sen. Tom Cotton called the plan “unacceptable.”

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of six senators working to resolve thorny issues like the status of illegal aliens, border security and restrictions on legal immigration offered a draft plan Thursday, but the White House rejected it.

The rejection plunged the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a government-shutdown deadline.

In a meeting with several lawmakers, President Donald Trump used vulgar language to ask why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and certain African countries rather than places like Norway, according to people briefed on the Oval Office conversation.

Trump's remarks startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived accusations that the president is racially biased. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society."

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In the Oval Office meeting, Richard Durbin of Illinois -- the Senate's No. 2 Democrat and among the six senators working on the immigration deal -- explained that as part of the deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, although there could be another way for them to apply, the sources said. Durbin said people who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti, would be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Trump asked why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. "Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said when he became angry during a conversation about temporary protected status given to some foreigners, the sources said. "Take them out."

As for Africa, he asked why more people from "s***hole countries" should be allowed into the U.S., the sources said.

The president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

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"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," White House spokesman Raj Shah said when asked about the remarks.

The sources with knowledge of the meeting spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly describe the conversation.

The immigration agreement that Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described to Trump also includes his $1.6 billion request for a first installment on his long-sought border wall, aides familiar with the agreement said. They, too, required anonymity because the agreement is not yet public.

Trump's request covers 74 miles of border wall as part of a 10-year, $18 billion proposal.

Democrats had long said they wouldn't support funding the wall but are accepting the opening request as part of a broader plan to protect from deportation about 800,000 illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. as children.

The deal also would include restrictions on a program that allows immigrants to bring some relatives to the U.S.

Federal agencies will run out of money and have to shut down if lawmakers don't pass legislation extending government financing by Jan. 19. Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes unless an immigration accord is reached. Republicans will need Democratic support to push the budget legislation through Congress.

Four other GOP lawmakers -- including hard-liners on immigration -- were also in Trump's office for Thursday's meeting, a development that sources said Durbin and Graham did not expect. It was unclear why the four Republicans were there, and the session did not produce the results the two senators were hoping for.

"There has not been a deal reached yet," said White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But she added, "We feel like we're close."

DEAL OBJECTIONS

Underscoring the hurdles the effort faces, other Republicans -- chiefly No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas -- also undercut the significance of the deal that the six senators hoped to sell to Trump.

"How do six people bind the other 94 in the Senate? I don't get that," Cornyn said.

Cornyn said the six lawmakers were hoping for a deal and that "everyone would fall in line. The president made it clear to me on the phone less than an hour ago that he wasn't going to do that."

The six senators led by Durbin and Graham had been meeting for months to find a way to revive protections for young people who arrived in the U.S. as children and are here illegally.

Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.

In addition to Durbin and Graham, the bipartisan group includes Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., all of whom have worked on immigration issues for several years and are from states that have large alien populations.

Cornyn said the real work for a bipartisan immigration deal will be achieved by a group of four leading lawmakers -- the No. 2 Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate. That group met for the first time this week.

The immigration effort seemed to receive a boost Tuesday when Trump met with two dozen lawmakers and agreed to seek a bipartisan way to resuscitate the DACA program. The group agreed to include provisions to strengthen security -- which for Trump means building parts of a wall along the border with Mexico -- curbing immigrants' relatives from coming to the U.S. and restricting the visa lottery.

Also in Thursday's Oval Office meeting were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.

After the meeting, Cotton who is an immigration hard-liner and an ally of Trump, said the bipartisan plan "is unacceptable" because of how it deals with family-based migration policy -- a practice that conservatives deride as "chain migration" -- and on ending the diversity lottery program that grants visas to 55,000 people from countries that have low rates of immigration each year.

"It doesn't end chain migration," Cotton said of the bipartisan plan. "It merely delays it for an extremely small class of persons. On the diversity lottery, it simply takes all those visas and gives them away to other people for no rhyme or reason, it doesn't just end the diversity lottery."

Cotton added that the group's border security proposal "doesn't give near enough resources to meet the president's demands."

Told of Cotton's public criticism, Graham said, "Sen. Cotton can present his proposal. We presented ours. I'm not negotiating with Sen. Cotton, and let me know when Sen. Cotton has a proposal that gets a Democrat. I'm dying to look at it."

Meanwhile, other Republicans have released a flurry of new legislation in recent days designed to placate concerns of conservatives wary of a potential bipartisan deal.

Goodlatte, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Reps. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Martha McSally of Arizona on Wednesday unveiled a conservative plan that would grant deferred-action participants an opportunity to apply for legal residency that would be renewed every three years. Democrats and some Republicans reject such a plan.

The bill also would authorize construction of border walls and fencing; allow federal immigration and security agencies to hire at least 10,000 new agents; end the diversity lottery program; end the ability of new U.S. citizens to legally move family members into the United States; withhold federal funding from cities that refuse to help federal agencies enforce immigration laws; and intensify the use of the E-Verify system to check an employee's immigration status.

Privately, aides to GOP leaders say the bill would not be able to pass in the House.

Along with news of the Durbin-Graham plan's rejection came the revelations of Trump's remarks on entrants from Africa and Haiti.

Critics have accused Trump of racial bias, and he has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors generally embraced.

Trump has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, wasn't born in the United States; has said Mexican immigrants were "rapists" and "bringing crime" to the U.S.; and that there were "very fine people on both sides" after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., left one counterprotester dead last summer.

"Racist," tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., after Thursday's story broke. But it wasn't just Democrats objecting to the remark.

Rep. Mia Love, a Utah Republican and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." She said, "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation," and Trump must apologize to the American people "and the nations he so wantonly maligned."

Trump has called himself the "least racist person that you've ever met."

Information for this article was contributed by Ed O'Keefe, Erica Werner, David Nakamura, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post; and by Alan Fram and Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press.

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