Did Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Adviser Stephen Miller Kill a Bipartisan Immigration Deal and Force a Gov’t Shutdown?

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A couple of weeks ago President Trump held a meeting at the White House with a bipartisan group of congressmen and women and asked them to come up with a deal on immigration.  Democrats wanted a deal on DACA, Republicans wanted tightened border security.  The result, was a general feeling among the attendees that a deal could be struck.  President Trump promised to be a willing participant in the deal-making.

“When this group comes back — hopefully with an agreement…I’m signing it…I’m not going to say, “Oh, gee, I want this or I want that.  I’ll be signing it, because I have a lot of confidence in the people in this room that they’re going to come up with something really good,” the president said.

The president indicated that he wanted any potential bipartisan plan to include four things: A solution to DACA, funding for a border wall, an end to family-based chain migration and an end to the visa lottery program.  The president also said that if Congress want to take it a step further and come up with a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, he would be willing to provide political cover to get a deal across the finish line.

“And if you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care.  I don’t care — I’ll take all the heat you want to give me, and I’ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans,” Trump said.

A few days later Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the president and informed him that a group of six senators – three Democrats and three Republicans – had come up with a proposal that satisfied all of the president’s demands.  The deal would include, among other things, a 10-year pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and about $2.7 billion in funding for border security (including $1.6 billion in funding for the border wall).

Durbin called the president at 10 a.m. The president invited Durbin and the other lawmakers to the White House at noon to talk about the deal.  When they arrived, they were surprised to see that several anti-immigration hardliners were there: Sens Tom Cotton (R-AR), David Perdue (R-GA) and Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

They had been talking to the president for a while, and he was “fired up,” according to attendees.  Trump told Durbin that he was no longer interested in the terms of bipartisan deal he and the others had put together.  He criticized the plan for not including enough money for the border wall, and also objected to the tweaks made to adjust the visa lottery and other immigration programs, that he felt was going to encourage more immigration from countries he deemed undesirable.  It was at this meeting that the president made his now infamous “s-hole” remarks.

Durbin and the others were stunned.  A few days later at a Department of Homeland Security oversight hearing in the Senate, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the “gang of six” wondered what happened to President Trump between 10 a.m. and 12 noon that day.

“What happened between 10 and 12?  Between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock we went from having conversations between Senator Durbin…and the president that were very hopeful and by the time we got there, something had happened,” Graham wondered.

Homeland Security Oversight

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Homeland Security Department, by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) about President…

Speculation has swirled that in the intervening hours Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House adviser Stephen Miller convinced the president that the deal was not going to be good for him.  Kelly, who is the former secretary of homeland security talked to Trump and told him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda, according to reports.

Miller, a former aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has built a reputation on Capitol Hill as being a staunch opponent of any effort to provide legalization for immigrants living here illegally.  It was apparently Miller who designed the meeting that had Trump reject the bipartisan framework put forth by Durbin et al.

The White House rejects the assertion, saying the president is the one who invited all of the attendees to the meeting.  After speaking to Durbin, the president asked his staff to “get Cotton and Purdue to come because they represent different viewpoints,” they said.  Democrats, however, contend that Durbin and Graham were “ambushed.”  The president rejected their offer.

One week later, the government was shut down.

 

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