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)

Senate Republican leader embraces Trump immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday turned up the heat on Democrats seeking protections for young “Dreamer” immigrants as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell embraced President Donald Trump’s demands for broad changes to the country’s immigration policies.

In announcing his support for legislation that would help immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children, McConnell also threw his weight behind building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and sharply curtailing visas for the parents and siblings of immigrants living in the United States legally.

“This proposal has my support and during this week of fair debate I believe it deserves support of every senator who’s ready to move beyond making points and actually making a law,” McConnell, a Republican, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Even some Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism that such broad, fundamental changes in U.S. immigration law can pass the Senate by the Thursday deadline that No. 2 Republican Senator John Cornyn urged late on Monday.

Also on Monday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the charge for Dreamers, told reporters that he thought early Senate votes on immigration legislation would begin with “expansive” measures that will fail to win the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.

Then, Durbin said, senators will be forced to move “toward the center with a moderate approach.”

But at least for now, Republicans were holding a tough line. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, interviewed on Fox News, said Trump’s immigration plan “is not an opening bid for negotiations. It’s a best and final offer.”

That ran counter to statements Trump has made in recent days, including early on Tuesday in which he said in a tweet that “Negotiations on DACA have begun.”

DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Democratic former President Barack Obama initiated in 2012 and which has allowed around 700,000 Dreamers to legally study and work in the United States temporarily. Last September, Trump announced he would terminate the program on March 5.

During testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Monday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said he thought that a deal on immigration legislation will be reached “and that we have full funding on the (border) wall” of $18 billion over two years.

Durbin and other Democrats have talked of the possibility of a bill that provides for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and additional border security, which could include the construction of more border fencing and other high-tech tools to deter illegal immigrants.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump signs deal to end brief government shutdown, increase U.S. spending

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walk to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 7, 2018.

By David Morgan, Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress ended a brief government shutdown on Friday by reaching a wide-ranging deal that is expected to push budget deficits into the $1 trillion-a-year zone.

The bill passed by a wide margin in the Senate and survived a rebellion of 67 conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives thanks to the support of some Democrats. Those conservatives were mainly angry about non-military spending increases.

President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on Friday morning, ending a government shutdown that began just after midnight, when Congress was still debating the budget deal.

It was the second shutdown this year under the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump, who played little role in attempts by party leaders this week to end months of fiscal squabbling.

The deal is the fifth temporary government funding measure for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and replenishes federal coffers until March 23, giving lawmakers more time to write a full-year budget.

It also extends the U.S. government’s borrowing authority until March 2019, sparing Washington politicians difficult votes on debt and deficits until after mid-term congressional elections in November.

Once known as the party of fiscal conservatives, the Republicans and Trump are now quickly expanding the U.S. budget deficit and its $20 trillion national debt. Their sweeping tax overhaul bill approved in December will add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

Nearly $300 billion in new spending included in the bill approved on Friday will ensure the annual budget deficit will exceed $1 trillion in 2019, said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a private fiscal policy watchdog group in Washington.

Friday’s budget deal allows for $165 billion in additional defense spending over two years that will help Trump deliver on his promise to rebuild the military.

That won over many Republicans but some were still furious over the $131 billion extra made available for non-military spending, including health and infrastructure.

None of the added spending will be offset by budget savings elsewhere or revenue increases, relying instead on government borrowing. There also is no offset reduction for nearly $90 billion in new disaster aid for U.S. states and territories ravaged by hurricanes or wildfires.

PRESSURE ON MARKETS

The brief shutdown in Washington came at a sensitive time for financial markets. Stocks plunged on Thursday on heavy volume, throwing off course a nearly nine-year bull run. The S&P 500 slumped 3.8 percent.

Markets barely flinched at the last shutdown in January, but that was before a dizzying selloff that started on Jan. 30 amid concerns about inflation and higher interest rates.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, objecting to deficit spending in the bill, engaged in a nine-hour, on-again, off-again protest and floor speech late on Thursday. He had harsh words for his own party.

“Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits,” he said. “I can’t … in good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits. Really who is to blame? Both parties.”

His dissent forced the brief government shutdown, underscoring the persistent inability of Congress and Trump to deal efficiently with Washington’s most basic fiscal obligation of keeping the government open.

“Republican majorities in the House and Senate have turned the process into an embarrassing spectacle, running from one crisis directly into the next,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey prior to the House vote.

Republican Representative Kristi Noem told Reuters she voted against the bill because it increases non-defense spending and raises the federal debt ceiling.

“To increase domestic spending and raise the debt ceiling was coupling two very bad policy decisions and with no reforms tied to it. It was very disappointing,” she said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others in her party had opposed the bill because Republican House leaders would not guarantee her a debate later on steps to protect about 700,000 “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.

These young people were brought illegally to the country as children years ago, mostly from Mexico. Trump said in September he would end by March 5 former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects the Dreamers from deportation.

Trump urged Congress to act before then. Senate Republicans have pledged to hold a separate immigration debate this month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan had not offered Pelosi an equivalent promise in the House, although he said in a speech before the vote on Friday that he would push ahead for a deal.

“My commitment to working together on an immigration measure that we can make law is a sincere commitment,” he said. “We will solve this DACA problem.”

But Pelosi said Ryan’s words fell short, accusing him of not having “the courage to lift the shadow of fear from the lives of” Dreamers who face the prospect of deportation.

Minutes after midnight, when the short-lived shutdown began, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sent a notice to millions of federal employees telling them to check with their agencies on whether they should report to work on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bill Trott)

Congress expected to vote on budget to avert government shutdown

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were expected to vote on a proposed budget deal on Thursday that would avert another government shutdown but that has angered fiscal conservatives who complain it would lead to a $1 trillion deficit.

The plan to keep the government operating and to increase spending over the next two years faced resistance from conservatives in the Republican Party, who favor less spending on domestic government programs. At the same time, many liberal Democrats wanted to withhold their support as leverage to win concessions on immigration policy.

That meant the bill’s passage was not assured in the House and would need some Democratic support. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has backed the agreement, said on Thursday he believed the chamber will pass the budget deal.

“I think we will,” Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support.”

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the deal “eye-popping and eyebrow-raising.”

“We took an official position last night to say we can’t support this,” he told CNN on Thursday.

Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

The rare bipartisan deal reached by Senate leaders on Wednesday raises spending on military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion over the next two years.

It would allow for $165 billion in extra defense spending and $131 billion more for non-military programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle an opioid crisis in the country.

It would stave off a government shutdown before a Thursday night deadline and extend the federal government’s debt ceiling until March 2019, putting off for more than a year the risk of a debt default by the United States.

CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION

The agreement, backed by Republican President Donald Trump, disappointed conservative House Republicans and outside groups.

“It’s not like Republicans aren’t concerned about disaster relief, or Republicans aren’t concerned about funding community health centers or dealing with the opioid crisis,” U.S. Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican, said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“But when you add them all up, it adds to an awful lot of spending. … It’s not compassionate to bankrupt America.”

Liberal Democrats meanwhile opposed the deal because it does not include an agreement to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” young people brought illegally to the United States as children.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday staged an eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of immigration legislation, including reading letters from Dreamers pleading to be allowed to stay in the United States.

A number of lawmakers who supported the bill acknowledged the deal was not perfect. “It’s not pretty,” Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger said on CNN.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester said he hoped House Democrats would back the measure. “We don’t want the perfect to get in the road of the good,” he told the cable network.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said many lawmakers believe the defense spending in the bill was essential. “We’re going to get it through because most people will support it,” he told Fox News.

Senate Republicans planned a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill to increase military funding for the rest of the year to demonstrate support for Trump’s promised defense build-up.

Democrats will not support it because it does not contain similar spending increases for non-military programs. But the Senate’s failure to advance the bill will not damage the budget legislation, which is due for a vote later in the day.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News the agreement provides long-term certainty in the budget and funding for Trump priorities including infrastructure and military funding.

Failure to agree on spending led to a partial three-day shutdown of government agencies last month.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)

Senate leaders in a rare display of bipartisanship, reach $300 billion federal spending deal

U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2018.

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional leaders, in a rare display of bipartisanship, on Wednesday reached a two-year budget deal to raise government spending by almost $300 billion, attempting to curb Washington’s fiscal policy squabbling but also widening the federal deficit.

The agreement, announced by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, would lift caps on defense funding and some domestic spending. It also would postpone a reckoning with the federal debt limit.

Along with President Donald Trump’s tax cuts that were approved by Congress in December, the new round of spending would further add to the bulging deficit and may face resistance in the House from Democrats as well as Republican fiscal hawks.

“This bill is the product of extensive negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said on the Senate floor.

The plan will need to be passed in the House and the Senate, both controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, before it can be sent to the White House for the president to sign into law.

House Democrats have warned they will not back the deal unless Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan promises to advance separate legislation on immigration policy.

Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate Democrats, touted the deal, saying, “It should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this Congress and hampered our middle class.”

The defense spending increase in it should allow Trump to make good on his campaign promise for a military build-up.

The White House said the deal includes an extension, until March 2019, of the government’s debt ceiling. The Treasury Department has been warning that without an extension in borrowing authority from Congress, the government would run out of borrowing options in the first half of next month, risking an unprecedented debt default.

The agreement also funds disaster relief, infrastructure and programs addressing opioid abuse, the Senate leaders said.

DEFICIT INCREASE

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said the deal would increase spending by “just shy” of $300 billion.

A senior congressional aide said this amount of additional spending would not be offset by any spending cuts or new tax revenue, meaning an increase in the federal deficit.

“This really is the moment where it has become clear that despite record levels of debt and approaching trillion dollar deficits, Congress has stopped caring about what they’re doing to the fiscal health of the country,” said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group that advocates for long-term fixes to Washington’s debt problems.

Aside from the budget deal, lawmakers were also trying to reach agreement by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown and fund the government until March 23. If that fails, the U.S. government would suffer its second shutdown this year, after a partisan standoff over immigration policy led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.

In financial markets, yields on benchmark 10-year notes rose on news of the budget deal, on expectations of higher growth and potentially greater Treasury supply.

A large uptick in issuance is expected after Congress raises the debt ceiling, which along with higher inflation expectations has weighed on bonds in the past week.

A congressional source familiar with the agreement said it would increase non-defense spending by $131 billion and include $20 billion for infrastructure spending. It also would extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 10 years instead of the current six, the source added.

Passage of the plan would ease the brinkmanship over spending that roils Washington so regularly that financial markets barely flinch at the threat of a government shutdown.

Immigration again emerged as a possible point of contention. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who helped negotiate the accord, nevertheless said she would oppose it unless Ryan promises to advance legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of young adult immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” brought to the United States illegally as children.

January’s shutdown came after Democrats sought to have a spending bill include protections for the Dreamers that Trump has rescinded effective in March.

Republicans are eager to keep spending and immigration separate. Trump threatened on Tuesday to upend budget talks by saying he would welcome a government shutdown if Congress were not able to agree to changes in immigration law that he said would prevent criminals from entering the country.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington and April Joyner in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)

White House sees good chance of long-term budget deal

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are expected to unveil “a good, bipartisan deal” on Wednesday that would raise current limits on federal spending for two years, the White House said, as Congress seeks to end fights over spending that have plagued Washington for months.

Higher defense spending expected in the agreement would allow President Donald Trump to make good on his campaign promise for a U.S. military build-up, although the White House is still concerned about non-defense spending levels, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told MSNBC.

But Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives’ Democratic leader, said she would not support such a deal, aimed at lifting some limits on government spending for two years, unless Republican Speaker Paul Ryan promised to advance legislation on immigration. Trump’s fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

Over the past several months, congressional leaders have been negotiating a deal that would raise spending caps for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, and the next one for both defense and non-defense programs.

A broad budget deal could ease the brinkmanship over spending that roils Washington so regularly that financial markets barely flinch anymore at the threat of a government shutdown.

“There’s some things that you give and take in a negotiation like this, and so I think this will be a good, bipartisan deal but we’re more excited about the defense spending,” Short said.

Aside from the planned longer-term deal, lawmakers were also trying to reach agreement by Thursday to avoid a shutdown and fund the government until March 23.

“We expect the government is not going to shut down this week,” Short said.

In a further sign of Congress’ inability to get basic work done, the House on Tuesday had to approve another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down.

Stopgap measures are needed when Congress fails to approve spending on time for a full fiscal year, something it has done only four of the past 40 years, according to congressional researchers.

The Senate was expected to take up the House stopgap legislation as Congress raced to get a finished bill for Trump to sign into law before government funding runs out on Thursday.

If that fails, the U.S. government would experience its second shutdown this year, after a partisan standoff over U.S. immigration policy led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.

Immigration again emerged as a possible point of contention in budget talks when Democrat Pelosi said she would oppose a two-year deal unless the Republican Ryan promised to advance legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of young adult immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” brought to the United States illegally as children.

Republicans are eager to keep spending and immigration separate. But Trump threatened on Tuesday to upend budget talks by saying he would welcome a government shutdown if Congress were not able to agree to changes in immigration law that he said would prevent criminals from entering the country.

January’s shutdown came after Democrats sought to have a spending bill include protections for the Dreamers that Trump has rescinded effective in March.

On Tuesday, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the emerging Senate two-year deal would increase funding for domestic programs like drug treatment and broadband infrastructure that Democrats want, as well as a military spending increase sought by Republicans.

“We’re making progress,” Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic minority whip, told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Congress must also raise the federal debt ceiling or face defaulting on the government’s bills, and several Republican lawmakers said the matter would be part of Senate budget talks. The U.S. Treasury is expected to run out of borrowing options by late March.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Meadows says White House could give more time for ‘Dreamer’ fix

Protesters calling for an immigration bill addressing the so-called Dreamers, young adults who were brought to the United States as children, walk through the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va (Reuters) – An immigration deal protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants and allocating additional funds for border security without also addressing family migration and the visa lottery would be a “non starter,” Republican Mark Meadows, head of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Thursday.

Meadows said that President Donald Trump could extend the deadline to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program past March 5 in order for Congress to work out a broader deal.

“Listen, we are not going to do a few billion dollars for border security and have the same problem a decade from now, two decades from now,” Meadows told reporters. “If we’re going to solve the problem, let’s solve the problem.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker)

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 says Republicans will accept citizenship for ‘Dreamers’

A woman protests to call for a new DREAM Act to replace DACA in Los Angeles, California U.S. January 17, 2018.

By Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would be willing to shift his stance on immigration to push through a deal that protects illegal immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation and offer them citizenship.

In an interview with CNBC broadcast on Friday, Trump also said Republican Senators Tom Cotton, John Cornyn and David Perdue and Representative Bob Goodlatte, who have all taken tough stances on immigration, could agree to offer citizenship within 10 to 12 years to so-called “Dreamers.”

“They’ve really shifted a lot, and I think they’re willing to shift more, and so am I,” the Republican president told CNBC in an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We’re going to see. If we make the right deal, I think they will.”

“These are people that have very strong opinions on DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) and on immigration generally. And I happen to think they’re largely right,” said Trump.

It was unclear whether Trump’s stated willingness to shift more on immigration would resonate with Democrats, who along with some Republicans, have accused Trump of being an unreliable negotiating partner, too willing to change his stance under pressure from conservatives in his party.

Senior White House officials outlined an immigration plan on Thursday, hours after the Trump interview was taped, that would offer a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million of the illegal immigrants. The proposal includes measures to curb some legal immigration programs and provide a border wall with Mexico.

The White House offered to more than double the number of Dreamers, who would be protected from deportation, describing it as a major concession aimed at attracting enough votes for an immigration deal from Democrats.

To appeal to Republicans, the plan would slash family sponsorship of immigrants, tighten border security and provide billions of dollars in funding for a border wall with Mexico, one of Trump’s signature campaign promises.

Senators Cotton and Perdue on Thursday praised the framework. But Representative Jim Jordan, a member of the House of Representatives conservative Freedom Caucus, said on Friday the focus of any plan must prioritize border security issues over DACA. “I have some concerns frankly. It’s all about where the focus is,” he told Fox News.

The deal has been panned by both pro-immigration groups, who called the proposal a bad trade-off, and conservative groups, who criticized the expansion of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

Congressional Democrats also oppose the measure. “The president should not be releasing a framework that is a nonstarter like this one,” Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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)