White House rejects bipartisan Senate immigration plan

Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their 'Walk to Stay Home,' a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House stuck to its hard-line immigration approach on Thursday and said advisers would recommend that President Donald Trump veto a bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants and tighten border security.

The plan, which would protect from deportation 1.8 million young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children, would weaken border security and undercut existing immigration law, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“Preventing enforcement with respect to people who entered our country illegally before a date that is in the future would produce a flood of new illegal immigration in the coming months,” she said.

The proposal, which had been considered perhaps the most likely to succeed in the Senate, also includes a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even build segments of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico.

White House opposition to the bipartisan plan appeared to focus on a provision that would direct the Department of Homeland Security to focus enforcement efforts on undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, are a threat to national security or arrived in the United States after June 30, 2018.

The Senate is debating at least four immigration measures as lawmakers race to resolve the status of Dreamers, who were protected under an Obama-era program. Trump has ordered that program to end by March 5, telling Congress it should come up with an alternative plan by then.

The Department of Homeland Security also opposed the bipartisan plan led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, saying it would prevent DHS officers from being able to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, and “is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework.”

Trump has said any immigration bill must include funds to build the border wall, end the visa lottery program, impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants and protect Dreamers.

The Republican president has backed a measure by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces his wish list but is unlikely to win support from enough Democrats in the closely divided chamber.

A narrower third bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, has been dismissed by Trump. A fourth measure, which is not expected to pass, focuses on punishing “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the four measures would be held possibly on Thursday or at least Friday morning, ahead of a self-imposed Senate deadline of the end of the week.

‘BITTER PILLS’

The bipartisan Collins bill got a slight boost earlier on Thursday when an influential group that advocates for immigrants, America’s Voice, gave its reluctant support to the measure.

The group opposes provisions allowing the construction of a border wall and moves to limit legal immigration, but said in a statement, “We believe the chance to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers calls us to swallow these bitter pills.”

Despite backing from several Republicans for the Collins-led plan, it was unclear whether it would muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate, controlled 51-49 by Republicans.

A senior Senate Republican aide said the White House veto threat would “scuttle” some Republican support for the bipartisan bill. The prospect of all bills failing could even discourage some Republicans from voting for the Trump-backed plan, the aide said.

Trump is anxious to start on the border wall, which he made a central part of his 2016 election campaign and which Democrats have long opposed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the wall would be “an enormous waste of money,” but both parties had to bend.

“We have to rise above our differences, admit that no one will get everything they want and accept painful compromises,” Schumer said.

In September, Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect Dreamers from deportation and offer them work permits. Although the protections are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.

Even if one of the Senate measures passes, it must still win over the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority and are pushing a more conservative proposal that is more closely in line with Trump’s framework.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump budget plan to seek funds for border wall, infrastructure, opioid treatment

Copies of the President Trump's FY 2019 budget proposal are delivered to the U.S. House Budget Committee offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 12, 2018.

By Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will unveil his second budget on Monday, seeking to make good on his promise to bolster military spending and requesting funds for infrastructure, construction of a wall along the border with Mexico and opioid treatment programs.

The budget plan, which is viewed largely as suggestions by Congress, which has the constitutional authority to decide spending levels, will likely draw criticism from conservatives who worry that Republicans are embracing deficit spending.

The proposal will include $200 billion for infrastructure spending and more than $23 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, Mick Mulvaney, who heads the administration’s budget office, said in a statement on Sunday night.

It will also provide “for a robust and rebuilt national defense,” he said.

But the statement added that the proposal would recommend cuts that would lower the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years.

“The budget does bend the trajectory down,” Mulvaney told the “Fox News Sunday” program earlier on Sunday. “It does move us back towards balance. It does get us away from trillion-dollar deficits.”

The budget request will be delivered to Congress only days after Trump signed off on a bipartisan spending agreement hammered out by lawmakers that will increase domestic spending by $300 billion over two years – including $165 billion in defense spending and $131 billion in non-military domestic spending.

The White House plans to amend its request to take into account the higher spending levels in the agreement that passed on Friday, a senior official in the Office of Management and Budget said.

Mulvaney said on Sunday all that money did not need to be spent.

“These are spending caps,” Mulvaney said. “They are not spending floors. You don’t have to spend all that.”

The spending deal will add to the annual budget deficit, which will now exceed $1 trillion in 2019, said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget watchdog group.

Trump’s previous budget was criticized for recommending cuts to spending to achieve deficit reduction that ultimately even members of his own Republican Party thought were untenable.

“I hope the budget that we see is workable and recognizes the landscape we’re in,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican member of the Appropriations Committee. “A lot of times, what you have is a budget that even the Cabinet secretaries can’t defend.”

DEFICIT DEBATE

“The president’s budget is always a list of pretty good suggestions. It’s not ‘the’ budget,” said Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi.

This year’s budget is likely to stoke debates about deficits that began when Congress passed a tax overhaul in December. The tax cuts in the legislation contained no corresponding reductions in spending and instead relied on arguments that the lower rates would stoke economic growth.

Trump’s budget will include a number of economic forecasts and is expected to rely on estimates that the economy will keep growing at a rapid pace for the foreseeable future.

Such forecasts could obscure the level of deficit spending, said Robert Greenstein, president of the progressive Center for Budget Policy and Priorities.

“It’ll essentially be another budget gimmick, alongside rosy economic assumptions, to make the deficit smaller than it will actually be,” Greenstein said.

The budget proposal will include two key elements – $18 billion over two years for Trump’s long-promised border wall and $200 billion in federal funds to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 10 years with state, local and private partners, Mulvaney’s statement said.

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the border wall, which the Mexican government has insisted it will not do.

Democrats oppose the wall, which Trump has said is aimed at keeping out illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.

The budget will also seek some $13 billion in new funding over the next two years to combat the opioid epidemic.

In addition, it will request $85.5 billion for veterans’ health, the administration said.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)

Lebanon vows to block border wall, Israel eyes diplomacy on gas field

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Lebanon's Higher Defence Council at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 7, 2018

By Ellen Francis and Dan Williams

BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Lebanon vowed on Wednesday to prevent any territorial intrusion by a border wall which Israel is building, and Israel said it wanted foreign mediation to resolve a maritime energy dispute with its northern neighbor.

Lebanese leaders have accused Israel of threatening the stability of the border region. Arguments over the wall and Lebanon’s plans to explore for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters have increased friction between the two enemy states.

“This wall, if it is built, will be considered an assault on Lebanese land,” the secretary-general of Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council said in a statement after a meeting of senior government and military officials.

The council “has given its instructions to confront this aggression to prevent Israel from building (the wall) on Lebanese territory,” it said, without elaborating.

The council includes Lebanon’s president, prime minister, other cabinet ministers and the army commander.

Israel has said the wall is entirely within its territory.

One Israeli official told Reuters that parts of the wall were being erected closer to the border than a current frontier fence, which in places runs well to the south due to topography.

The Lebanese government says the wall would pass through land that belongs to Lebanon but lies on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, where the United Nations demarcated Israel’s military withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Calm has largely prevailed along the frontier since 2006, when Israel fought a war with Lebanon’s heavily-armed Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah movement. The month-long conflict killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

In a televised address last month, Hezbollah’s leader cautioned Israel to take the Lebanese government’s warnings over the wall “with utmost seriousness”.

“Lebanon will be united behind the state and the army to prevent the Israeli enemy (violating Lebanese territory),” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said. Hezbollah will “fully handle its responsibility in this regard,” he added.

OFFSHORE ENERGY

Lebanon’s first offshore oil and gas exploration tender drew condemnation last week from Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He called it a “very provocative” move and urged international firms not to participate.

The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles). The zone extends along the edge of three out of five energy blocks that Lebanon put to tender early last year.

In December, Lebanon approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two blocks.

One of these, Block 9, juts partly into waters claimed by Israel. In a conciliatory tack from Lieberman’s remarks, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday mooted negotiations.

“There is a dispute, which is no secret – it’s been going on for years – over the border demarcation between our economic waters and Lebanon’s,” he told the Israeli news site Ynet.

“We hope for, and are prepared to move forward on, a diplomatic resolution to this matter.”

Steinitz said that, in 2013, U.S. intermediaries had come close to clinching a deal involving “a kind of compromise”.

“The Lebanese too have their own economic waters in which they want to search for gas and oil,” he added. “And they have such a right – so long as they do not threaten and certainly not penetrate our demarcated waters”.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and; Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump urges bipartisan compromises but continues hard line immigration policies

U.S. President Donald J. Trump (C) stands at the podium as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on during his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018.

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump urged lawmakers on Tuesday to work toward bipartisan compromises, but pushed a hard line on immigration, insisting on a border wall and other concessions from Democrats as part of any deal to protect the children of illegal immigrants.

Trump, in his first State of the Union speech, gave no ground on the contentious issue of whether to shield young immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.

Aiming to keep conservative supporters happy as he looks to November congressional elections, Trump stood by a set of principles opposed by Democrats, including the border wall with Mexico and new restrictions on how many family members that legal immigrants can bring into the United States.

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said in his address.

Trump used the hour-and-20-minute speech, given annually by presidents to Congress, to try to overcome doubts about his presidency at a time when he is battling a probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia and suffering low job approval ratings.

Trump made no mention of the federal probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, a controversy that is dogging his presidency. Trump has denied collusion and has called the probe a “witch hunt.”

The speech was short on details about Trump’s policy proposals.

But his sober, measured approach was welcomed by the public. A CNN/SSRS snap poll said 48 percent of those surveyed had a “very positive” response to the speech and 22 percent “somewhat positive.”

There was little sign of unity inside the House of Representatives chamber where Trump spoke. Republican lawmakers cheered wildly at the president’s applause lines. Democrats often sat in their seats silently and many booed when he laid out his immigration proposals.

DENOUNCES NORTH KOREAN LEADERSHIP

Turning to foreign policy late in the speech, Trump denounced the “depraved character” of North Korea’s leadership and said Pyongyang’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”

“We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” he said. In a surprise moment, he singled out a North Korea defector in the crowd, Ji Seong-ho, as an example of what he called the reclusive country’s brutal nature.

Trump also said he had signed an order to keep open the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for foreign terrorism suspects. Former Democratic President Barack Obama had vowed to close the prison, which has been condemned by human rights groups, but was unable to shut it down completely.

Whether Trump would follow through on his appeal for bipartisan harmony was far from clear. Trump’s past attempts at a unifying message have been undermined by his later rancorous tweets and divisive statements that angered Democrats and frequently annoyed lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

The unity plea will first be put to the test in his drive for a compromise on protecting 1.8 million Dreamers – people brought illegally to the country as children – who face a March 5 deadline on whether they can begin to be deported.

Republicans welcomed Trump’s immigration proposals, with U.S. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma saying Trump tried to strike a middle ground.

“My Democratic colleagues can say he didn’t move enough, but you can’t deny he moved a lot. There are people in his core base who think he has moved way too far.”

But Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the longest-serving senator, said Trump’s words about unity, after a year of “divisive actions, petty insults and disgraceful race-baiting … ring hollow.”

Trump said he was “extending an open hand” for an immigration deal and that he would provide Dreamers a pathway to citizenship over 10 to 12 years in exchange for funding the border wall, which he promised during his campaign, and restrictions on legal immigration.

He called his plan a “down-the-middle compromise,” but some Democrats hissed when he said he wanted to rein in “chain migration,” the ability of legal immigrants to bring a wide-ranging number of family members into the country.

“Let’s come together, set politics aside and finally get the job done,” Trump said.

INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN

Trump took credit for U.S. economic gains including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate. He boasted about the economic growth he believes will result from tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress late last year.

“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said.

Trump said he would like a compromise over a plan to rebuild aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure. He said he wanted legislation to generate at least $1.5 trillion through a combination of federal, state and local spending as well as private-sector contributions.

Market reaction was muted, with S&P 500 futures drifting higher, but investors saying there was little new for Wall Street in the speech.

“Futures lifted a bit because it was not a negative speech. He was calm. He celebrated America. He avoided his own failures,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors in Chicago.

While Trump spoke of compromise, his speech provided some reminders of partisan battles over the past year.

He singled out a speech guest, 12-year-old Preston Sharp, for leading an effort to put American flags on the graves of 40,000 veterans, saying the initiative was “why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”

His criticism of National Football League players who refused to stand for the anthem in protest against police shootings of minorities and racial disparities in the justice system, dominated headlines last autumn.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump seeks $25 billion for border wall, offers ‘Dreamer’ citizenship

People protest for immigration reform for DACA recipients and a new Dream Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S.

By Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday previewed his outline for an immigration bill that he will promote next week, saying he wants $25 billion to build a border wall and is open to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Trump said he was optimistic he could come to an agreement with both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress that would appeal to hardliners seeking tougher rules for immigrants while also preventing the roughly 700,000 “Dreamers” from being deported.

“Tell them not to be concerned, ok? Tell them not to worry. We’re going to solve the problem. It’s up to the Democrats, but they (the Dreamers) should not be concerned,” Trump told reporters during an impromptu question-and-answer session at the White House.

Trump campaigned for president in 2016 promising tougher rules for immigration. In September, he announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, effective in March – unless Congress came up with a new law.

The program currently protects about 700,000 people, mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides them work permits.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the lead lawmakers in the immigration negotiations, said Trump’s comments signaled a major breakthrough.

“President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system,” Graham said in a statement. “With this strong statement by President Trump, I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”

“COULD GO EITHER WAY”

Graham was part of a bipartisan group of three dozen senators who met on Wednesday on Capitol Hill to discuss moving forward on immigration legislation.

After the meeting, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill expressed cautious optimism to reporters about Trump’s framework, saying “that could go either way,” when asked if it will be helpful to lawmakers.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, was slated to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday, a senior White House official said.

Trump so far has rejected bipartisan proposals to continue DACA, leading to the standoff between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate that resulted in a three-day government shutdown that ended on Monday.

Congress agreed to extend funding to Feb. 8, but Republicans promised to allow debate on the future of the young illegal immigrants. Senators began meeting to discuss their proposals on Wednesday.

The White House plans on Monday to unveil a framework for immigration legislation that it believes can pass muster with both parties. Trump will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night.

For immigration legislation to be enacted into law, the House of Representatives ultimately would have to pass a bill identical to whatever the Senate approves.

Trump said his proposal would include a request for $25 billion for the border wall, $5 billion for other border security programs, measures to curb family sponsorship of immigrants, and an overhaul of or end to the visa lottery system.

In exchange, he said he wanted to offer the Dreamers protection from deportation and an “incentive” of citizenship, perhaps in 10 to 12 years.

Addressing the status of the Dreamers’ parents, who brought them into America illegally, would be “tricky,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Makini Brice and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

California to file lawsuit over Trump border wall

A view of a section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at El Paso, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California’s attorney general plans to file a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging President Donald Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the border with Mexico, the state AG’s office said, adding to the obstacles facing a key Trump campaign promise.

Trump has insisted Mexico would pay for building the wall, which experts said could cost about $22 billion and take more than three years to complete.

With Mexico refusing to pay, Trump has said since taking office in January that the wall will initially need U.S. funding but that he will find a way to make Mexico ultimately pay for it.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress, however, firmly oppose the border wall, and at least some Democratic senators would need to vote for its inclusion in a spending package.

Democratic attorneys general including California’s Xavier Becerra have sued the Trump administration on a range of issues.

The border wall lawsuit set to be filed on Wednesday will allege that Trump’s wall violates federal environmental standards, as well as constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers and states’ rights, a Becerra spokesperson said.

Last month the Trump administration said it had selected four construction companies to build concrete prototypes for a wall, which will be will be 30 feet (9 meters) tall and about 30 feet wide and will be tested in San Diego.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Sandra Maler)

U.S. hopes to have border wall finished within two years: official

DAY 6 / JANUARY 25: President Trump signed directives to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border and strip federal funding from "sanctuary" cities that shield illegal immigrants, as he charged ahead with sweeping and divisive plans to transform how the United States deals with immigration and national security. "We are in the middle of

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Thursday he hoped to have a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico finished within two years, according to an interview with Fox News.

“The wall will be built where it’s needed first, and then it will be filled in. That’s the way I look at it,” Kelly said in the interview. “I really hope to have it done within the next two years.” He added he thought funding from Congress for the massive project would come “relatively quickly.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu)