President Trump has kicked Sen. Lindsey Graham to the curb in a new round of negotiations on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and border security, after the South Carolina Republican spearheaded a botched bipartisan deal that helped cause a three-day government shutdown.
Mr. Graham appeared to accept his diminished role in the talks, and looked to the chambers’ No. 2 leaders — Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois — to carry the process forward.
“They’re respected by their conferences,” Mr. Graham said Tuesday. “I’m trying to create a process where all this bipartisanship has a place to go. So if Cornyn and Durbin can work together and receive input, they can give us an idea of whether we can get a bill or what a base bill would look like.”
The White House blasted the deal put forward by the bipartisan Gang of Six, which was led by Mr. Graham and Mr. Durbin, and ruled it a nonstarter in the new round of talks.
“In short, it is totally unacceptable to the president and should be declared dead on arrival,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
A day after Senate Democrats agreed to reopen the government, lawmakers were back at the negotiating table looking for a fix to DACA, the Obama-era amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have been dubbed “Dreamers.”
Instead of the Gang of Six, a broader group of about 25 Senate moderates from both parties, attempted to forge a compromise.
Republicans on Capitol Hill voiced frustration with Mr. Graham’s maneuvering on immigration, including holding him partially responsible for the shutdown.
“What we saw in the behavior of Sen. Durbin and Sen. Graham was like a child’s tantrum,” said a GOP aide. “You should never have a meeting and put on the theater for the media that we saw.”
The two senators emerged form a Jan. 11 meeting where Mr. Trump rejected their proposal and publicly vouched for reports that the president called Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries “Sh—tholes.”
Those reports spurred charges that the president was a racist and helped give cover to Senate Democrats who voted Friday to shut down the government.
The Graham-Durbin deal offered a generous pathway to citizenship for as many as 2 million illegal immigrants, but it fell short of Mr. Trump’s demand for an end to family-based chain migration, a cancellation of the visa diversity lottery and increases in border security, including funding for a border wall.
Undeterred, Mr. Durbin declared Tuesday that the Graham-Durbin deal was still alive and kicking.
“The president doesn’t get to pick the senators that pass bills in the Senate [and] I’m sure Sen. Graham would agree,” Mr. Durbin told The Washington Times. “We’ll do our best to facilitate moving toward a bipartisan agreement and whether it has my name on it or not is insignificant. We want to achieve our goal.”
However, he stopped short of saying he and Mr. Graham would be at the forefront of the talks.
“I’d say we are both still personally involved and we have been for a long time,” he said. “We’ve invited new players into the room and new senators to the table, and that’s a good thing.”
Mrs. Sanders said the president would play a “big role” in the negotiations but stressed that it was Congress’ job to send a bill to his desk.
The president has insisted that fixing DACA has to include strong border security and significant changes to legal immigration.
“You can’t fix the problem is you just tinker with immigration in a small way,” said Mrs. Sanders. “We want to make sure we are not having this conversation and fight in two years, three years and four years. We want to address making a permanent solution to DACA at the same time closing the loopholes so we don’t have to continue having this battle.”
The DACA program, which courts ruled was improperly created, was canceled by Mr. Trump in September and set to phase-out in March.
The issue became entwined in the spending debate that resulted in a shutdown. The deal struck Monday reopened the government with a new deadline of Feb. 8 to extend government funding and address DACA.