A visitor walks past the U.S. Capitol Building during a partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Alex Edelman/Bloomberg)

Trump Tweaks Border Stance in Bid to Shift Shutdown Blame

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump made his first substantive offer of the government shutdown aimed at peeling off moderate Democrats and shifting blame with an American public that so far overwhelmingly holds him responsible for the month-long impasse.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the proposal on Saturday, hours before Trump outlined it in a White House speech to the nation. Trump said he would extend protections for three years for so-called Dreamers -- young people bought to the country illegally as children --and make other concessions in exchange for his demanded $5.7 billion toward a border wall.

Trump Tweaks Border Stance in Bid to Shift Shutdown Blame

The offer doesn’t signal the shutdown is any closer to ending, but it may begin a serious dialogue -- or it could be a strategically-timed attempt to put the ball back in the Democrats’ court, days before federal workers are scheduled to miss another paycheck. White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney mused to reporters that he is “very curious” to see how Democrats explain a “no” vote on Trump’s plan under those circumstances.

Trump tweeted about the impasse early Sunday, complaining that Pelosi and some Democrats rejected his proposal before he presented it. He suggested the opposition was based on the 2020 presidential race, which Democrats “are not going to win” because of the “Best economy.”

“They should do the right thing for the Country & allow people to go back to work,” Trump tweeted. He also said Pelosi had behaved “irrationally & has gone so far to the left.”

Still, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said he hoped the president’s proposal “will spark more good-faith negotiations so we can resolve the current impasse on border security and reopen the government.”

Senate Vote

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised he would bring the plan to a vote in Republican-controlled chamber by the end of the week, forcing members to take a public stand on the new plan. Vice President Mike Pence told reporters at the White House that work on the plan would start in Congress on Tuesday.

Trump’s proposal and the Senate vote McConnell is engineering will test Democrats’ unity and the position party leaders have maintained for weeks: that the government shutdown must end before any negotiations on Trump’s border wall demand.

Moving to demonstrate Democrats’ commitment to enforcing immigration laws, Pelosi said the House will vote on its own border security plan next week, making the point that it will offer a stark contrast with no new border wall money but could help jump start negotiations.

Republicans also face pressure: on their right flank, many immigration hardliners were quick to criticize Trump’s plan as “amnesty” for people who entered the country illegally. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah said he looked forward to “being able to offer amendments,” suggesting the path forward is far from simple.

Trump portrayed his plan in a 13-minute televised address as a way to end a partial government shutdown now into its fifth week.

‘Break the Logjam’

“I’m here today to break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward,” Trump said in his address.

Still, much of the speech had the same hard-edged tone as his Oval Office address earlier in the month. He spoke in dark terms of migrant women being raped on their journey through Mexico to the U.S. border, and tied undocumented immigrants to crime and drugs.

The plan outlined by Trump included:

  • three years of legislative relief for 700,000 DACA recipients, which would make available to those individuals work permits, Social Security numbers, and protection from deportation.
  • A three-year extension of Temporary Protected Status affecting about 300,000 individuals from various countries.
  • In return, Trump again requested $5.7 billion for a “strategic deployment of physical barriers” at the U.S.-Mexico border. The wall would not stretch from sea to sea, he said, but would be strategic and in selected locations, including 115 miles now under construction or under contract, and 230 more miles this year.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer dismissed that as thin gruel.

“It was the President who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place -- offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking,” Schumer said.

Also missing from the plan was any effort to address Trump’s policies on asylum and family separation provisions.

Pelosi was unwavering as well, saying on Twitter that “what is original in the President’s proposal is not good. What is good in the proposal is not original.” She also rebuked Trump for a lack of “any sympathy for the federal workers who face so much uncertainty” because of the shutdown.

Trump’s proposal drew swift condemnation from some of the conservative commentators who had excoriated the president when he initially signaled he would sign a funding measure that didn’t include money for the border wall. Trump scuttled the funding package in response, beginning the shutdown on Dec. 22.

Ann Coulter, one of those commentators, tweeted that Trump’s plan would provide “100 miles of border wall in exchange for amnestying millions of illegals. So if we grant citizenship to a BILLION foreigners, maybe we can finally get a full border wall.”

Trump tweeted on Sunday that “amnesty is not a part of my offer” because his proposed three-year extension of the protections would be used “on a much bigger deal.” He also said there would be no big push to remove 11 million people in the U.S. illegally but suggested that could change, saying to Pelosi, “be careful Nancy!”

No Path

A similar deal was rebuffed by Democrats in March during an earlier government funding debate, according to a Republican and Democratic aide at the time. Republican leaders and the White House offered two-and-a-half years of protections, without a path to citizenship, for DACA beneficiaries in exchange for border wall funding.

Democrats rejected it then, and asked for a path to citizenship, fearing that it would give Trump his wall money while making DACA recipients eligible for deportation after a few years. The White House said no to a path to citizenship, and negotiations collapsed.

Amnesty is still not an option, administration officials said. “There is no amnesty in this proposal. There is no pathway to citizenship in this proposal,” Pence told reporters. The terms of the plan, he said, were what the president wanted.

The White House has said repeatedly that the time to address the Dreamers would be after the Supreme Court Rules on whether Trump’s attempt to deport them can go forward, and has requested the issue be considered urgently. But the top U.S. court indicated on Friday that it wouldn’t hear a case on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, any time soon.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a 2020 Democratic hopeful, said she was a “no” on the Trump plan. The president, she said, continues to hold federal workers hostage for his planned border wall, and is offering to temporarily restore programs -- DACA and TPS -- that he took away.

The longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history is approaching its second month, with some 800,000 workers nationwide left scrambling to make ends meet. Some have taken on part-time jobs, tapped into their retirement accounts, or turned to food banks and other charitable groups. At the same time, a number of federal agencies have been calling employees back to work -- without pay -- to limit the impact and protect favored industries and policy initiatives.

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