Still battling over what President Donald Trump did – or didn’t – say during a tense White House immigration meeting last week with lawmakers, Senators used a hearing with the Homeland Security Secretary on Tuesday to publicly appeal for compromise on DACA and a series of politically difficult immigration issues, as one Republican urged the President to “close this deal.”
“This has turned into a S-show,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as Graham blamed aides at the White House “who have an irrational view on immigration” for the current impasse.
“If the President is watching, I’m still in the phone book,” Graham added, as he said both parties and Mr. Trump must give a little in order to reach a deal.
Questioning Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Graham voiced frustration at the “Tuesday Trump” and the “Thursday Trump” from last week, indicating that he believes more conservative Republicans had intervened to scuttle a bipartisan immigration compromise that had been worked out by a group of six Senators.
Other Republicans on Tuesday echoed Graham’s call for compromise on the nearly 700,000 Dreamers, who were spared the threat of deportation under the Obama Administration, but saw that rescinded in September by President Trump.
“We should push for the best deal we can get, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), as he warned Democrats they would not get a ‘clean’ DACA bill to help illegal immigrant Dreamers.
But Hatch also warned Republicans they couldn’t ask for everything as well.
The hearing provided new details on how the President had suddenly raised the amount of money he wanted to build a border wall in the heated immigration talks last Thursday – as the original request had been for $1.6 billion.
“Is the President realistic when he says he wants $20 billion so he can build the wall in one year?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I think the President is encouraging us to go as quickly as we can,” answered Secretary Nielsen, who said Mr. Trump also wanted to close a variety of loopholes in immigration law, to dissuade people to come to the U.S. illegally.
While Durbin said a bipartisan agreement presented to the President last week fulfilled Mr. Trump’s demands on a number of fronts, Nielsen made clear it was not acceptable to the Trump Administration.
“I cannot agree to a deal that does not give the tools and resources to the men and women of Homeland Security to do the job you have asked them to do,” Nielsen told Durbin at a different point in their ten minute back and forth.
“We gave you every penny you asked for,” Durbin countered.
“We need the wall, too. The wall works,” Nielsen. “It’s part of border security.”
Durbin also explored the details of the meeting from last week on what exactly the President had said, pressing Nielsen – who was under oath – on what she heard.
In exchanges with several Democratic Senators, Nielsen repeatedly said she had not heard the words, “shithole” or “shithouse,” as she said lawmakers and the President were expressing very passionate feelings about the immigration negotiations.
“Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) bluntly told Nielsen, who said last week’s meeting was filled with bad language.
“Other profane words – I don’t think they were appropriate either, and they were not used by the President,” Nielsen told Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
“I actually was struck more by the fact that the conversation – although passionate and appropriately so – had gotten to a place where many people in the room were using inappropriate language in the Oval Office in front of the President. That’s what struck me,” Nielsen said.
After over two hours of testimony – and being asked about the issue repeatedly – Nielsen deflected questions from other Democrats on the matter, saying she had said all that should could about the matter.
In other immigration news, Nielsen told lawmakers there is an ongoing surge in illegal crossings of the Mexican border in recent months, as the feds have noted a definite increase in both unaccompanied children and families trying to make it into the United States.
“It’s a big problem,” Nielsen said, as the surge is a turn around from a big drop that occurred during the early months of the Trump Administration.
As for the unfinished DACA deal, Nielsen said her staffers had still been working with Senators to try and bridge the gap on a possible deal, as one veteran Republican urged all sides to compromise.
But the chances for a deal seemed to be much worse now than a week ago, when the President in a Tuesday meeting had told lawmakers to do all they could to reach an immigration agreement.
“I don’t know how this movie ends,” Graham admitted.