One lawmaker who could be crucial to Donald Trump’s goal of signing an immigration overhaul bill into law met twice with the president at the White House this week. But it wasn’t Speaker Paul D. Ryan or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or the chairmen of the House or Senate Homeland Security or Judiciary committees.
It wasn’t even Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, perhaps the senior-most Republican senator with much at stake from an immigration bill since he represents Texas and its 1,240-mile border with Mexico. Rather, it was the relatively junior GOP senator who hails from thousands of miles from the border: Arkansas’s Tom Cotton.
Cotton and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, a vocal Trump ally, are the co-authors of legislation that would impose a skills-based criteria on individuals hoping to obtain U.S. citizenship.
The White House and Cotton’s office declined to comment about the subject of the late-Thursday morning Oval Office session between the senator and Trump.
But, for lawmakers, the clock to find consensus on an immigration bill is ticking after Trump on Sept. 5 gave them six months to send him a bill after he announced the end of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shielded from deportation individuals who came to the United States with their parents before their 16th birthday.
One month already has expired, leaving them five to do their work — with the next three to be dominated by a GOP tax overhaul push, hurricane-relief spending and a looming government shutdown threat in early December.
But immigration legislation came up during Cotton’s first meeting with a Trump this week, a working dinner at the executive mansion that featured other GOP members who also will play a big role should Congress take up an immigration bill.
A White House official said the dinner meeting focused, in large part, on immigration policy — especially beefing up border security and bolstering the system under which individuals legally come to the United States. The GOP tax overhaul push and disaster relief also came up, the official noted.
“The dinner focused on shared priorities for immigration legislation, including legal authorities to close border security loopholes, restoring interior enforcement, and reforming the legal immigration system,” the White House official said. “In addition, they discussed other agenda items for the fall such as tax reform and disaster relief. The president looks forward to continuing these conversations with bipartisan members of Congress.”
The president wants the Cotton-Perdue bill included in any more-sweeping immigration bill Congress might send him, White House officials have said in recent days. It has drawn a lukewarm reception from some Republican members, but Trump endorsed it in August.
“As a candidate, I campaigned on establishing a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers. And that is why we are here today: merit-based,” the president said on Aug. 2, flanked by Cotton and Perdue. If made law, the bill would “reduce poverty, increase wages, and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars,” he added.
During the trio’s brief remarks that day, Cotton called the U.S. immigration system “a half-century old” and “an obsolete disaster,” saying it is “time for it to change.”
Cotton said in August his bill with Perdue is about “re-orienting our Green Card system towards people who can speak English, who have high degrees of educational attainment, who have a job offer that pays more, and a typical job in their local economy, who are going to create a new business, and who are outstanding in their field around the world.”