White House

Trump lobbies for Dem support of immigration plan even while using hardline rhetoric

Can POTUS have it both ways on a proposal that appears mostly about his re-election campaign?

 President Donald Trump, here with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Rose Garden in June 2017, unveiled his latest immigration overhaul plan on Thursday. Not even GOP lawmakers voiced support, however. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump on Friday lobbied for Democratic votes for an immigration plan that appears to have no traction while also throwing the kind of red-meat rhetoric toward his base that turns off those very Democrats.

In a morning tweet during a rare overnight stay at Trump Tower in New York, the president appeared be referring to polls like an April Washington Post-ABC News survey that showed a 17 percent jump in the number of Democrats who view the spike in migrant families showing at the U.S.-Mexico border as a crisis. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials say they made 100,000 apprehensions at the border in March, the biggest number in 12 years.

“The Democrats now realize that there is a National Emergency at the Border and that, if we work together, it can be immediately fixed. We need Democrat votes and all will be well!”

Many congressional Democrats acknowledge the surge in migrant families and attempted border crossings is nearing or is at crisis levels. But they differ greatly from Trump on what to do about it. For instance, the president wants to build a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, something Democrats oppose; and they want to keep U.S aid flowing to Central and South American countries to help address the root causes of domestic strife that leads residents there to flee to the United States. Trump wants to slash aid as a punishment to those governments for not preventing their people from leaving.

White House officials in recent weeks have struggled to explain why they did not bring in Democrats in an attempt to craft something that had a fighting chance of reaching Trump’s desk. They also struggled in recent days to explain how the plan is little more than a 2020 campaign document; that impression is backed up by their boss’ Friday morning attempt to pressure Democrats to support it.

“I fundamentally disagree with President Trump on his immigration policies, because I think he's trying to restrict the ability of good people to come to this country,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Maryland, a former Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, said Thursday.

Cardin spoke after the president rolled out his latest immigration reform plan in the White House Rose Garden — without taking questions after or later as he departed for fundraisers in New York.

That plan would dramatically pare the existing immigration system that allows migrants to bring their spouses and children to the United States, proposing to replace it with one based on migrants’ skills and job offers in the U.S. It also seeks border wall funding, a “border security trust fund,” upgrades at legal ports of entry and big changes to the asylum system, which Trump said Thursday is “broken” and spawns “frivolous claims” that allow migrants to “game admission.” Trump wants to slap English-language and civics tests onto the criteria for entry, as well.

No Democratic lawmaker spoke out Thursday in support of his plan, and — unlike some GOP members — none were in the steamy Rose Garden for Trump’s remarks. So he took to Twitter on Friday morning to lobby for opposition party support for a plan to which Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has given a lukewarm response to and not signaled will get a floor or even committee vote this year.

“Will the Democrats give our Country a badly needed immigration win before the election?” Trump wrote in one tweet. He then, despite a shred of public evidence that it is true, wrote this forecast of passing his plan: “Good chance!”

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democrats who spoke about that proposal a day earlier were skeptical of Trump’s intentions. Like McConnell, the speaker shied away from saying she would tee up the White House blueprint even for a hearing, much less votes.

“We all want highly skilled people in this country and we’ve done a lot to discourage that by our immigration policies so we should fix our immigration policies to deal with it,” Cardin said. “But America's strength is in our values and protecting people who are in danger has always been an American value.”

Even as Trump at least appeared to be looking for Democratic support, he launched several hardline tweets that will please his conservative base — but not the Democratic members he will need to cross the aisle and give him the votes in both chambers.

The chief executive warned “All people” who are in the U.S. illegally “will be removed from our Country at a later date as we build up our removal forces and as the laws are changed.” (That was a veiled reference to his fiscal 2020 budget request, which asked Congress to provide funding for 1,000 more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.)

Using the kind of language that gets big applause at his campaign rallies — and, increasingly, at official White House events in key swing states — the president then had a warning for migrants here illegally: “Please do not make yourselves too comfortable, you will be leaving soon!”

That kind of rhetoric will please Trump supporters in the swing states he needs to rebuild the 2016 Electoral College map that put him in the White House in the first place. It also pleases conservative GOP members, which a senior White House official earlier this month said is the main audience for the plan Trump unveiled Thursday as the administration sees as its first step as keeping Republicans together — not attracting Democratic votes.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Trump is “serious about finding solutions to fix our broken immigration system & secure our borders.”

“If we want to continue this economic boom, we must have an immigration system that responds to the needs of our growing economy, while protecting American workers,” Perdue said.

In another tweet, he said “I will continue working w/ the Trump Administration & my Senate colleagues to move toward a merit-based immigration system that is focused on bringing in the best & brightest from around the world who wish to come to the U.S. legally to work & make a better life for themselves.”

Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.