A group of senators announced they’d made a breakthrough on immigration talks Thursday but President Trump and GOP leaders rebuffed them, saying the outlines of their agreement didn’t appear to be strong enough to win enough Republican support.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin presented their plan to President Trump, saying they’d taken care of all four of his priorities with action to protect Dreamers, more border fencing, curtailing the Diversity Visa Lottery and imposing some limits on the chain of family migration.
But they were opposed by other Republican lawmakers in the meeting who said the deal needed to be stronger.
In the end, the White House sent the members back to keep working.
“There has not been a deal reached yet, however we still think we can get there,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
The Graham-Durbin deal appeared skewed toward Democrats’ priorities without doing enough to win over Republicans, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress — albeit by a slim margin in the Senate.
The deal would have offered Mr. Trump less than 10 percent of his border wall, and only a 3 percent cut to existing paths of family-based chain migration.
It would have eliminated the Diversity Visa Lottery, as Mr. Trump has demanded, but it would have taken the 50,000 annual lottery visas and used them to create a new pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of would-be illegal immigrants in the U.S. under temporary humanitarian protections.
Countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras make up the majority of people here under that special Temporary Protected Status — and the demand that they be covered in any immigration deal appeared to to irk the president.
The Washington Post reported that he used an expletive to describe those countries in Thursday’s meeting, and wondered why the senators were focused on them instead of welcoming people from developed nations. Mr. Trump’s derisive remark drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.
Still, the substance of the Graham-Durbin proposal met with pushback from other congressional Republicans in the meeting, who said the plan didn’t come close to making a dent in future illegal immigration.
Pressure groups that push for stricter immigration limits said the president was right to reject the deal.
“This is a joke. This is not a serious proposal in any way,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA.
For their part, Democrats are under intense pressure from immigrant-rights organizations and liberal pressure groups not to deal with the GOP and to insist only on a bill that grants legal status for Dreamers.
Some of the pressure groups have said they want to see Democrats force a government shutdown showdown unless they get their way.
Politico, a politics-focused website, used the word “mutiny” to describe the debate within the Democratic Party.
But when a reporter raised the divisions with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, she shot him down.
“Our caucus is very unified,” she said.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Durbin were joined in their negotiations by Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Cory Gardner, and Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Robert Menendez, dubbed a Gang of Six.
All of them save Mr. Gardner were part of the last major immigration negotiations in 2013, when a Gang of Eight senators struck a deal on a broad bill to legalize most illegal immigrants in exchange for some changes to the legal immigration system.
That bill cleared the Senate, but only after others added a massive new injection of border security — including 350 miles of border fence.
Senators never sent the bill over to the House, where it had far less support among Republicans who controlled the chamber at the time.
GOP leaders appeared to have learned a lesson from that last failure.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and one of his party’s top negotiators on the issue, said that any deal must be reached by more than just the Gang of Six.
“It’s not going to be done by just a subgroup,” Mr. Cornyn said.