Is Trump's New Immigration Plan Just for Jared?

Is Trump's New Immigration Plan Just for Jared?
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Is Trump's New Immigration Plan Just for Jared?
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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So President Trump rolled out a new reform plan for immigration, his signature issue, and no one will talk about it -- including him. No, Republicans weren’t promoting it on the Sunday shows; they’re actually dodging questions about it. And no, Democrats aren’t criticizing it because prospects for passage are so laughable they can’t waste any energy laughing about it.

“A merit system and a heart system” was how the president described the new initiative last week after promoting it for months in advance as the pet project of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The plan for more high skilled immigration would enable “millions of devoted immigrants to achieve the American dream,” he said, citing the nation’s “rich history of immigration,” which has made us “proud.” It was an un-Trump speech likely written by someone on his son-in-law’s staff.

Republicans openly say the plan wasn’t written to be debated, let alone become law. “We all know you’re not going to pass this without dealing with the other aspects of immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has tried unsuccessfully to get Trump to pass bipartisan immigration reform.

The president’s not trying to fool his own voters, even though he keeps telling them they’re not paying for tariffs when indeed we all are. Republicans are blowing it off outright and the plan didn’t seem to be aimed at the usual foils -- Democrats, Mexicans or the media. It could have been aimed at the business community, so distraught over the trade war that perhaps Trump thought he could throw them a bone so they keep writing checks to his 2020 campaign. But they too wouldn’t take a word of this seriously. Maybe it was all just an exercise to make Jared feel good. It sure looks that way.

Kushner touted the bill last week, unworkable and unrealistic as it is, as something Republicans “could be for,” in contrast to everything they are against on immigration. But it’s more of a marketing pitch since he didn't have any interest, let alone support, from even one Democrat. After working across the aisle to pass criminal justice reform, which Democrats prioritized and enough Republicans came around to, Kushner was under the mistaken impression he could offer a new compromise on immigration with Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin, whom he had partnered with on prison-sentencing reform.

Durbin, of course, worked closely with Graham last year to assemble a compromise that would have given the president $25 billion for a border wall in exchange for protections for DACA recipients. Trump walked away from the deal at the urging of the DACA-is-amnesty crowd, including immigration adviser Stephen Miller and Freedom Caucus naysayers such as Rep. Mark Meadows.

There are several reasons Democrats would oppose the new plan. Not only does it fail to address DACA, but it would likely wipe out the status of nearly 4 million immigrants who have been “waiting in line,” as we so often hear Trump say, given that the current employment-based or family-based green cards would not meet his new criteria.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Kushner’s deal-making skills, as no sooner than his immigration plan was buried did the Palestinians reject his latest attempt at economic incentive in a long awaited, and delayed, Middle East peace deal. After the administration announced an “economic workshop” in Bahrain, its invitation was rejected because the administration has consistently made policy favoring the Israelis. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Palestinians “do not trade our national rights for money.”

Then a story surfaced of Rex Tillerson ratting our Jared to House Foreign Affairs Committee members in a seven-hour meeting this week. According to reports, Tillerson told the members “Kushner should have consulted with State Department colleagues and that his lack of knowledge of history exposed him to being outmaneuvered.” The former secretary of state also said Kushner’s refusal to follow diplomatic protocols “made it difficult to understand what he was doing with world leaders,” according to The Washington Post.

Of course poor Jared had already been snubbed by Republicans before the big Rose Garden moment. At a meeting with senators days before, he was unable to answer several questions and had to be rescued by Miller, who stepped in to answer for him. Republicans immediately leaked the entire scene to The Post.

Multiple GOP lawmakers attended Trump’s speech to appear supportive, though not one of them had seen any details. Several Republicans also leaked that the White House sought positive statements from them, though summaries of the plan didn't reach their staffs until after 8 the night before, according to Politico.

During the speech, Trump propped up Jared: “This plan was not developed, I’m sorry to say, by politicians. We have a lot of politicians. But you respect the people and you know the people that have developed this plan,” he said.

The initiative prioritizes “highly skilled” immigration -- increasing totals for such entrants from 12% to 57% -- because companies aren’t able to hire enough “totally brilliant people.” Trump said that “we discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore, once we get this passed. And we hope to get it passed as soon as possible.”

That hope, of course, isn’t authentic. Twice Trump indicated the plan wasn’t serious – he urged Graham to step up his efforts to pass his own plan after 2020. So now immigration is joining that “beautiful health care” plan Trump promised for right after the next election.

“And I know a number of our Republican friends and others — Lindsey, I see you sitting right there, and Steve, you’re working on a plan, an immediate plan.  A smaller plan, but a very immediate plan to stop it as of this afternoon. So, as fast as you can get something done. This is the big, beautiful, bold plan, but we need something very quickly.  And if you can get it done, that would be fantastic,” Trump said. Then he added afterward: “If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency. One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-America immigration policy.”

Top Republicans didn’t seem worried about Kushner’s feelings when they refused to offer any support later that day. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, an unfailing Trump ally, said the proposal was “a base” from which to start a reform debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, great at saying nothing in several sentences, said he would review the plan, adding, “We are a nation of immigrants and we must preserve that rich part of who we are. But we are a nation of laws.”

By Monday night, when Trump held a rally in Pennsylvania, the plan was just a memory -- or not even that. There was no mention of all the “devoted immigrants” Trump spoke of days before. “Our country is full. We want Mexico to stop, we want all of them to stop. Our country is packed to the gills. We don't want them coming up,” he told the crowd.

Kushner deserves credit for working with the governments of Mexico and Canada to negotiate an update to NAFTA, though the prospects for passage of the USMCA are in doubt. Yet it’s not clear which one of his dreams -- of Middle East peace, legislative mastery or rebranding his father-in-law as an immigration centrist to help him win next year -- will come true.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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