Trump: Won’t Sign ‘Moderate’ Immigration Bill In GOP Setback

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ignited eleventh-hour confusion Friday over Republican efforts to push immigration through the House next week, saying he won’t sign a “moderate” package. A top House Republican said the chamber would not tackle the issue without Trump’s backing.

The tumult erupted days before GOP leaders planned campaign-season votes on a pair of Republican bills: a hard-right proposal and a middle-ground plan negotiated by the party’s conservative and moderate wings. Despite their policy clashes, both factions have been eager for the votes to be held as a way to show voters where they stand approaching an election in which GOP House control is at stake.

“I’m looking at both of them,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends” on Fox News. “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.”

The compromise bill includes provisions easing the high-profile problem of children being separated from parents when the families are caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. It would mandate that families be kept together for as long as they are in the custody of the Homeland Security Department, whose agencies staff border facilities and enforce immigration laws.

Spotlighting the political sensitivity of the issue, congressional Republicans have distanced themselves from the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border. The White House has cited the Bible in defending its “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that Trump backs the compromise plan. GOP aides said Trump’s remark caught party leaders off-guard, and White House officials did not immediately respond to requests to clarify the president’s comment.

While the conservative measure is seen as virtually certain to lose, party leaders have nurtured hopes that the compromise bill could pass. Trump’s backing has been seen as crucial, and his apparent pullback of support would be an embarrassing setback.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the GOP’s No. 2 vote counter, told reporters that leaders were seeking “clarity” from the White House about what Trump meant. Meanwhile, he suggested that plans for votes next week were being reconsidered.

“House Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump,” McHenry said.

Democrats are expected to solidly oppose both GOP bills, giving Republicans little leeway for losing support.

Underscoring the confusion, leaders canceled plans to use votes Friday on unrelated bills to try rounding up support for the compromise legislation, said another leading Republican, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

Cole said Trump was “confused,” reflecting hopes by some Republicans that Trump’s position might change.

The leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus — many of whose members have not endorsed the compromise plan — said Trump’s backing would be key.

“He’s just responding to the people who elected him,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “His voice on immigration probably carries more weight” among Republicans than anyone else, “So obviously you have to pay attention to that.”

Both the conservative and compromise GOP bills contain stringent security provisions and money to build Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico. But only the compromise measure gives young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children a chance to ultimately become citizens.

Conservatives are leery of legislation protecting from deportation immigrants who arrived illegally, calling it amnesty. A vote for such a measure, no matter what is also included for border security, could make them vulnerable to future challenges from even more conservative candidates.

Centrists, many from districts with many Hispanic and moderate voters, want to demonstrate they’re trying to protect the immigrants.

In a further confusing note, Trump added, “I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that. We have to have the wall. Don’t have the wall, there’s no bill.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized Trump’s stance.

“When the president says he’s not going to sign it, just shows how low his standards are,” she said.

Both bills, which are still undergoing changes, contain provisions aimed at helping young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often called Dreamers.

Hundreds of thousands of them have been protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump has terminated that program, though federal courts have temporarily kept it functioning. DACA has let the immigrants live and work in the U.S. in renewable two-year increments, but does not give them permanent legal status.

The latest version of the conservative bill would extend DACA protections for renewable six-year periods.

The GOP compromise would let Dreamers apply to stay in the U.S. for six-year, renewable periods. It would also cover an expanded number of children who arrived legally with parents who have obtained work visas.

After five years, those immigrants apply for green cards — permanent legal status — on a point system. Credit would be granted for education, military service, jobs and English language proficiency. Once they had green cards, they could follow the existing process to apply for citizenship.

The middle-ground bill curbs legal immigration, ending a lottery that distributed visas to low-immigration countries and paring down the relatives that U.S. citizens can sponsor for legal status. It also makes it easier to deport some immigrants and harder for some to enter the U.S. seeking asylum because they have been persecuted at home.

By ALAN FRAM, MATTHEW DALY and JILL COLVIN - JUNE 15. 2018 AP

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Associated Press reporter Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

 
 

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