WASHINGTON – As the partial government shutdown neared a month, President Donald Trump used a White House speech Saturday to outline what he called “a common sense compromise both parties can embrace” that included protections for some undocumented immigrants and money for border security.
“Both sides in Washington must simply come together,” Trump said in a White House speech, saying he is trying to “break the logjam.” Defending his plan, he said, “walls are not immoral, in fact they are the opposite of immoral because they will save many lives.”
In remarks he billed as a “major announcement,” Trump cited a proposal developed by administration officials and Republican lawmakers.
Congressional Democrats, however, said the offer as reported would not lead to a deal that would end the shutdown, in part because it would allow Trump to pursue an expensive and ineffective wall.
“His proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement issued before Trump’s speech.
Pelosi and other Democrats said the proposal is also a non-starter because it does not provide a path to citizenship for qualified migrants.
A senior House Democratic aide said the proposal as it would not pass the House or Senate, in part because “it includes the same wasteful, ineffective $5.7 billion wall demand that shut down the government in the first place.”
Trump said his proposal would give “Dreamers” work permits and protection from deportation, but he did not say anything about a path to citizenship. “This plan solves the immediate crisis,” he said.
The president also appeared to scale back the size of his wall proposal, saying he wants barriers only in “critical places” along the border.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., outlined the proposal for Trump last month, and told reporters the president was receptive. It involves giving the Democrats protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which includes a group known as DREAMers, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
Trump said his proposal is designed to jump-start talks to end the budget impasse that has kept the government closed for four weeks – now the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“Let’s get to work and let’s make a deal,” Trump said in a video he tweeted out before the speech.
Speaking with reporters hours before his remarks, Trump echoed his long-standing claim that he wants a wall to stop illegal border crossings. “If we had a wall, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Trump said.
Congressional Democrats said such a barrier would be easily evaded via ladders or tunnels, and noted that there will be no barrier along the border from coast to coast.
Trump frequently criticizes migrant “caravans” and claims they include criminals, though records say illegal border crossings have decreased in recent years and that migrants commit crimes at lower rates than U.S. citizens.
More: Trump wants to build a wall. These European nations already did. Do they work?
In the meantime, aides signaled that Trump would not use the remarks to declare a national emergency on the border, though that remains an option if new negotiations fail to yield a day.
The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall is the sticking point in the budget negotiations.
The president has refused to sign any spending bills to re-open the government unless they include $5.7 billion for some kind of border barrier, be it a wall or a “steel slat” fence. Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, have refused to support the wall, calling it too expensive and ineffective, instead supporting technology and additional manpower to secure the border.
Meanwhile, government workers along the border are reporting to work every day but not getting paid because of the shutdown.
More: Security, immigration controls fray as shutdown stretches into its fourth week
At times this month, Trump has discussed declaring some sort of “national emergency” on the border, a move that would theoretically allow him to use defense money for his border – but also one that would invite a lawsuit from Democrats who say the president lacks the legal authority for such a move in this situation.
On a visit to the Texas border on Jan. 10, Trump lamented that “the people that are coming in – the criminals, the gangs, the traffickers, the drugs – it’s all crime.” Government data shows that most illegal drugs intercepted at the border come through legal ports of entry.
Fact check: Most drugs enter US through legal ports of entry, not vast, open border
In the past, Trump has avoided making the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program part of the negotiations. One reason is that DACA is the subject of a pending Supreme Court case; the side that prevails in that case will have less of an incentive to make it part of an overall agreement.
Republican officials expressed confidence that a congressional majority would back the Trump proposal because it includes “the Bridge Act,” a bill co-sponsored by Graham and a prominent Democrat, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.
The Bridge Act would grant DACA recipients three-year work permits, and extend the legal status of Temporary Protected Status holders.
Durbin, however, said he would oppose the plan as part of a shutdown deal, and added that he does “not believe it can pass the Senate.” Calling on Trump to re-open the government while border security negotiations continue, Durbin said in that case he would “work to resolve all outstanding issues.”
Some Democrats have criticized the Bridge Act because it does not provide a path to citizenship for certain migrants.
Officials said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Trump to make the offer in an effort to get talks back on the track to re-open the government.
There have not been direct negotiations between Trump and the Democrats for more than a week, a time of angry back-and-forth between the parties.
On Jan. 9, Trump walked out of a negotiating session, saying Democrats refused to discuss any money for his border wall. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump staged “a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.”
On Jan. 16, Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Trump to postpone or even cancel his Jan. 29 State of the Union address because of security concerns brought on by the shutdown. Trump has not responded directly to the Speaker’s request.
While the president has yet to respond to the suggestion that he cancel the State of the Union, he did halt the military plane that Pelosi and a delegation of Democratic lawmakers planned to use for a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. The administration later said it would bar all members of Congress from using government planes during the partial shutdown without prior written approval.
Pelosi and the Democrats then sought to travel to Afghanistan on a commercial plane, but abandoned that idea because they said the Trump administration leaked news of the plan and undermined security. The administration denied Pelosi’s claim and labeled her allegations “outrageous.”