Congress

‘I’m not giving up on the president’: Pelosi hopes to find common ground on immigration

Speaker is optimistic about bipartisan immigration and infrastructure overhauls

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reads a quote by Ronald Reagan to the media at the House Democrats’ 2019 Issues Conference at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va. on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

LEESBURG, Va. — The morning after President Donald Trump accused Democrats of treason for not taking action to restrict border crossings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed optimism that her party can work with the president on a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

“It’s complicated, but it isn’t hard to do if you have good intentions,” Pelosi said.“And I’m not giving up on the president on this.”

Trump wants to overhaul immigration laws as well, but he and Democrats have vastly different goals. Pelosi, at a press conference during the Democrats’2019 Issues Conference, said she hopes to find common ground with Trump on immigration as well as Infrastructure spending and prescription drug pricing. 

The president wants to deport illegal immigrants, further restrict access to asylum seekers and cut down categories of family-based visas available for immigrants to enter the country legally. Democrats want to continue to welcome migrants seeking refuge into the country and find a path for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country to stay here legally.

It’s a wide gap to bridge on a topic that Trump clearly wants to use to highlight differences between him and his eventual Democratic opponent in the 2020 presidential contest. There’s little reason to believe Republicans and Democrats could work together on even the smallest of immigration matters — let alone a massive overhaul — before then. But Pelosi believes it’s possible.

“I’m always optimistic,” the speaker said. “And this has to happen. It’s inevitable. Again, it’s inevitable to some, inconceivable to others. We have to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable.”

Despite expressing hope that the president will come to the table for bipartisan immigration talks, Pelosi also acknowledged that he’s used the topic for political purposes.

“The president is a fearmonger. He fueled the flame of insecurity about globalization, about immigration in the campaign. … But if the economy is better for some of these people, I think that fear tactic will be diminished,” she said.

Democrats’ strategy in the 2018 midterms was to largely ignore the GOP’s immigration fearmongering and to focus on economic issues like health care, infrastructure and job creation.

Pelosi says that’s all part of laying the groundwork for a comprehensive immigration overhaul, which she noted is the “best thing we can do to grow the economy.”

“Our view of how we go forward is if we can change people’s financial security … if we can give people confidence, end some of their insecurities about their own economic situation, I think there will be a better atmosphere among some who are opposed to immigration in the country,” she said.

The speaker said that the bipartisan, bicameral fiscal 2019 spending package Congress passed and Trump signed in February contained the formula for the president to “bring order to the border.”

But she contends he’s not tapped those financial resources, much of them were focused on the humanitarian challenges stemming from the growing number of asylum seekers and other migrants trying to cross the border.

“He has not utilized what is in that specifically to the border,” Pelosi said.

 Trump recently threatened to close the border because of his frustration about the influx of migrants, but he backed off that amid broad, bipartisan opposition to the idea. 

‘Of course there’s room’

The president has continued his harsh rhetoric about immigrants. Last week, as he visited the border, Trump said the system was too full to accept anyone new. “We don’t have room,” he said. 

Pelosi was aghast at that remark.

“My God, I thought it was Mary and Joseph at Christmas,” she said. “We have no room. There is no room at the inn. What is this? Of course there’s room.”

One of the largest obstacles to Democrats and Republicans finding common ground on immigration is Trump’s insistence on building out a wall along the southern border, which Democrats object to as immoral. 

Trump walked out of a meeting with congressional leaders during the shutdown when Pelosi told him bluntly that Democrats wouldn’t provide any funding for a wall.

Pelosi says she has spoken to Trump about immigration since then, but just to say “that we have to do comprehensive immigration reform.”

She did not characterize his response.

What Pelosi and Trump have spoken more frequently about is working together to lower prescription drug prices and invest in the nation’s infrastructure. 

“Left to his own devices, I think sometimes the president would be agreeable to these things,” Pelosi said. Although the speaker noted, she “poo-pooed” his $200 billion proposed federal investment for an infrastructure package.

Pelosi is looking for a minimum of five times that amount, saying an infrastructure package “has to be at least $1 trillion” of federal funding. 

“I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” she said, but noted it’s all about how you leverage the money. “Whatever number is agreed upon, we have to stretch it to the limit.”

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