If it looks like President-elect Donald Trump won’t protect DREAMers, the incoming Senate minority leader wants President Barack Obama to do it on his way out the door.
Asked if undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and have benefited from deferred enforcement action by the Obama administration made a mistake in coming out and providing information about themselves to the government, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said, “I hope not.”
The New York Democrat said during an interview Friday in his Senate office that he was holding out hope for Trump, but would need to quickly see signs of moderation on what is perhaps his signature issue: immigration.
“I would hope that Donald Trump would actually meet some of these kids, and maybe their humanity would break through,” Schumer said. “You know, they’re not a bunch of evil bank robbers. They’re kids who did nothing wrong.”
The Trump campaign on Friday announced its intent to nomination Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Sessions has been a particularly vociferous critic of Obama administration immigration policies and an opponent of the “gang of eight” immigration bill that Schumer helped craft in 2013 and helped lead through the Senate.
“If [Trump] doesn’t change his views publicly, I would urge the president to do everything he could to protect the kids,” Schumer said. “And by the way, the idea that Donald Trump says of deporting people who are criminals — criminal meaning they’ve done robbery or burglary or assault — fine, but that’s being done already. These are innocent kids.”
Asked about Schumer’s view, a White House official said that clemency is not an option for granting legal status to undocumented immigrants.
“We note that the clemency power could not give legal status to any undocumented individual. As we have repeatedly said for years, only Congress can create legal status for undocumented individuals,” the official said, also noting longstanding policy against commenting on individual pardon applications.
Schumer said that he has attended fundraisers and charity events with Trump — including well-documented ones like a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee bash at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in 2008 — but that the two New Yorkers do not know each other that well.
“We never had dinner together or played golf together,” Schumer said. “I learned much more about him through the campaign than I knew before.”
“We’ve had some cordial conversations, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating,” Schumer said of their recent conversations.
He is certainly opening to cutting deals with “The Donald,” however.
“There are certain issues that President-elect Trump and his campaign espoused where he’s much closer to Democrats than Republicans. Trade is at the top of the list, and we’re happy to work with him on those issues, provided it’s real,” Schumer said. “I think we need a total revamping of trade. When I was in the gym about three weeks ago, I talked to Jeff Sessions, who had worked with me on trade issues.”
Schumer lit up when asked about the possibility for action against what he and Sessions view as improper manipulation of China’s currency.
“I think we have to revamp our trade laws rather dramatically, particularly focused on China, which doesn’t play by the rules,” Schumer said.
Though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton represented New York alongside Schumer for nearly a decade, Trump’s message won over most voters in upstate New York’s rural towns and old manufacturing-based cities.
But a good number of those folks also backed Schumer this year, helping him win more than 70 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.
“I think one out of every three Trump voters voted for Schumer,” he said. “I’ve always appealed to middle-class families, working families. That’s been my whole political existence, and because we Democrats didn’t have a strong enough, sharp-edged enough, bold enough economic message, Trump won a lot of those voters, but they still voted for me.”
Aside from trade, Schumer thinks there could be room for cooperation on infrastructure. But, he said, it would need to be a bill that authorizes spending on the scale of around a trillion dollars.
“We’ll help ’em, but not to do a half-baked bill,” said Schumer, encouraging Trump to reach out to Democrats directly since the spending might not be tenable to conservatives.
“It has to have real expenditures. You can’t do it with just … tax credits. It really needs expenditures,” Schumer said.
Schumer also warned that the new administration’s agenda should be built off areas highlighted by the president-elect rather than Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the socially conservative governor of Indiana who met which Schumer and other congressional leaders Thursday.
“The Pence agenda is not the Trump agenda, and if President-elect Trump adopts Vice President-elect Pence’s agenda, he’ll be a failure. Trump ran against both the Republican and Democratic establishments,” Schumer said. “If he now just adopts the hard-right line, it won’t serve him or the nation well.”