President Donald Trump on Saturday pitched what he described as a plan that could end a partial government shutdown — but Democrats made their opposition clear before he uttered a single word about it.
His new offer amounted to a somewhat surprising and sudden reversal for Trump and senior White House officials. That is because earlier this week, a senior White House official indicated the president was opposed to making a new offer unless House and Senate Democrats made the next move. It also appeared insufficient for Democrats as furloughed federal workers begin lining up at food banks and came amid worries about the shutdown’s effect on an already slowing U.S. economy.
Democrats rejected Trump’s proposal as a “nonstarter,” saying that the offer amounted to nothing more than cleaning up a mess of his own making and that a discussion of immigration policy could come after the shutdown was ended.
Trump called the country’s immigration system “badly broken,” saying “decades of political stalemate” and “partisan gridlock” are to blame. He again described the situation at the southern border is a humanitarian and security “crisis.”
He said the southern border is too “porous” as he ticked off what he said are anecdotes and statistics that show lethal narcotics and crime-creating migrants are moving too freely into the country.
“The good news is all these problems can be solved, but only if we have the political courage to do what is right,” the president said, calling on both political parties to “put down their armor … and come together.” But Democrats say he has done little, if any, actual negotiating toward a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress.
Watch: Criticizing Trump, Pelosi highlights the president’s walkout in weekly press briefing
“The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen,” he said, referring to the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. “Walls are not immoral,” he said, rebutting a top Democratic anti-wall talking point.
By pitching the plan, Trump again contradicted a stance espoused just a few days earlier by one of his senior aides.
“That’s the worst negotiating. Why keep making an offer against yourself?” the official told Roll Call on Wednesday, joking that a young child would know such a tactic was unwise. “We’ve made multiple moves.”
Yet, three days later, the president stood in the Diplomatic Reception Room and did just that.
The president told the country in a late-afternoon address that he would sign into law any bill the House and Senate pass that would extend protections to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and individuals with temporary protected status. In exchange for what essentially is his first offer to Democrats in weeks, Trump made clear he still is insisting on $5.7 billion he contends are needed to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The proposal floated by Trump is built around a version of the the so-called Bridge Act, which protects undocumented migrants brought to the U.S. as children, also known as “Dreamers.” The stalemate over funding for the border wall has resulted in a partial government shutdown that is now in its 29th day.
The president described himself as trying to break a “logjam” with a plan that is a “compassionate response to the tragedy at our southern border” that is based on needs identified by “homeland security professionals.”
He noted Democrats have supported the notion of a “physical barrier or wall in the past.” But, to the opposition party, Trump’s massive barrier has become a sign of racism and anti-migrant feelings that are present among the far right wing of the GOP.
The president spoke shortly after overseeing a naturalization ceremony for five new American citizens in the Oval Office for individuals from the United Kingdom, Iraq, Jamaica, Bolivia, and South Korea.
“We’re all equal,” Trump said during his immigration remarks. “We’re one team, and proudly saluting on American flag.”
The Bridge Act, first proposed in 2016 by Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, would grant three years of temporary legal status and work authorization for “Dreamers” enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as well as those currently qualified but not enrolled. The bill does not address Temporary Protected Status recipients, though Democrats have authored similar legislation addressing that population.
The 2016 legislation, introduced just a month after Trump’s election, won bipartisan support from Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on Judiciary, as well as Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. A House version of the bill introduced in early 2017 by former Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., won bipartisan support but was never called up for a vote by Republican leaders.
But despite its bipartisan roots, key Democratic lawmakers voiced their opposition to the president’s proposal even before he was back at the White House after an unannounced trip to a military base in Dover, Del., where the bodies of four U.S. troopers who were killed in Syria were returned earlier in the day.
Democrats on Capitol Hill panned the Trump proposal, with a senior House Democratic aide saying that it could not pass in either chamber.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the proposal a “non-starter” and a “compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”
“It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House,” she said in a statement after spending much of the week in an extraordinary tit-for-tat with the president.
“Democrats were not consulted on this proposal. Similar inadequate offers from the Administration were already rejected by Democrats. The BRIDGE Act does not fully protect Dreamers and is not a permanent solution,” the aide said in a statement. “This is not a compromise as it includes the same wasteful, ineffective $5.7 billion wall demand that shut down the government in the first place.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed he intends to try to bring the president’s proposal to the floor.
“This bill takes a bipartisan approach to re-opening the closed portions of the federal government. It pairs the border security investment that our nation needs with additional immigration measures that both Democrat and Republican members of Congress believe are necessary. Unlike the bills that have come from the House over the past few weeks, this proposal could actually resolve this impasse. It has the full support of the President and could be signed into law to quickly reopen the government,” McConnell said in a statement.
“Everyone has made their point—now it’s time to make a law. I intend to move to this legislation this week,” the Kentucky Republican said. “With bipartisan cooperation, the Senate can send a bill to the House quickly so that they can take action as well.”
Trump said that vote would come next week. Should it pass both chambers and become law, the president said he would use weekly bipartisan meetings at the White House to try to cobble together a comprehensive immigration reform package.
But it appears that is a long way off.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called for the reopening of the government first before the two sides could have “a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions.”
“It was the President who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place — offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
Even Bridge Act author Durbin was quick to signal his opposition as the White House must convince at least a handful of Senate Democrats to support the Trump proposal.
“First, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell must open the government today,” he said in a statement. “Second, I cannot support the proposed offer as reported and do not believe it can pass the Senate. Third, I am ready to sit down at any time after the government is opened and work to resolve all outstanding issues.”
Jim Manley, a former senior aide to then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, agreed with Durbin. “So as far as I can tell this so called deal trump is going to unveil this afternoon won’t get 60 votes in the senate,” he tweeted. “The question is whether it sets the stage for additional negotiations.”
The now-Democratic strategist called the president’s plan “seemingly somewhere between the end of the beginning of the shutdown and the beginning of the end. Or something like that.”
So as far as I can tell this so called deal trump is going to unveil this afternoon won’t get 60 votes in the senate. The question is whether it sets the stage for additional negotiations
— jim manley (@jamespmanley) January 19, 2019
Re: trumps announcement at 4 . I would characterize these dueling proposals as seemingly somewhere between the end of the beginning of the shutdown and the beginning of the end. Or something like that….
— jim manley (@jamespmanley) January 19, 2019
But GOP lawmakers and former Trump aides already are pressing Democrats to endorse the White House’s latest proposal. Thomas Bossert, a former Homeland Security adviser to Trump, tweeted a message for Pelosi: “Will @SpeakerPelosi deal or demagogue? President @realDonaldTrump to offer DACA for border security.”
— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) January 19, 2019
Amid the posturing are bipartisan and experts’ concerns about what the shutdown stalemate and its many ripple waves means for what was an already slowing U.S. economy. The White House, for instance, this week said the impact is expected to be worse than even it initially calculated.
The White House initially forecast a 0.1 percentage point hit to growth every two weeks that a quarter of the federal apparatus remains shuttered. Reports surfaced Tuesday, however, citing administration officials saying that has been updated to show a 0.1 percentage-point dip every week. But senior White House officials are downplaying that new estimate.
Lawrence Kudlow, the chief White House economic adviser, said Friday the economy is “strong” enough to withstand any “temporary” hit spawned by the partial government shutdown.
“The switch will turn” when the nine Cabinet agencies and smaller offices are again funded and functional and “you won’t even know it happened,” Kudlow told reporters outside the West Wing Friday evening. Though he said the “hardship” some furloughed federal workers who aren’t getting paid are experiencing is “bad,” the wealthy Kudlow insisted that soon everyone “can go back to watching Netflix … and college basketball.”
Democrats have criticized Trump and his aides for, in their view, appearing blind to some furloughed workers’ situation. Kudlow appeared aware of such criticism, adding, “I know I shouldn’t have just said that.”
Watch: Remember When Donald Trump Wanted Mexico To Pay for the Wall?
Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.