WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking for feedback and support, the White House invited Republican senators Tuesday to discuss a "fairly comprehensive" new immigration plan being spearheaded by senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The U.S/Mexico border fence at Border Field State Park near Imperial Beach, California, Photo Date: 11/20/2018 / Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection / (MGN)
The group was expected to include lawmakers who have been in discussion with Kushner's team about the plan, as well as more conservative members who could be more resistant to it. Among the dozen senators expected to attend were David Perdue of Georgia, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
The meeting comes as Kushner is finalizing a plan that is expected to include two major components: Border security measures that would include efforts to secure ports of entry and a package of legal immigration proposals that would create a more "merit-based" system giving preference to those with job skills rather than relatives of immigrants already in the country.
The plan is likely to be viewed with skepticism on Capitol Hill, which has struggled for decades to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Conservative Republicans are likely to oppose a plan that does not cut rates of legal immigration, while Democrats have made clear they will not accept changes without new protections of "Dreamer" immigrants brought to the country as children and here illegally. Some Republicans, especially those from election swing states, would like to see protections for Dreamers as well.
Some have also reacted skeptically to Kushner's involvement, given he has no previous background on the contentious subject. Kushner has nonetheless spent months meeting with various Republican groups, hoping to put together a proposal he believes can unite party members, following the playbook he used to help pass bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation last year.
Ahead of the White House meeting, Sen. Grassley, who favors stricter immigration enforcement, kept expectations in check.
"Well I think anything I'm looking for they probably won't have any chance of getting passed," Grassley told reporters.
Sen. Cotton, who was among those who prefer limiting immigration, said he was approaching the administration ideas with an "open mind."
Kushner said during an interview at the TIME 100 Summit two weeks ago that he would present a revised version to Trump "probably at the end of this week, next week" and that the president would then "make some changes, likely, and then he'll decide what he wants to do with it when he wants to do with it."
"My hope is that we can really do something that unifies people around what we're for on immigration," he said.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday described the plan as "fairly comprehensive" and said it could include changes to the diversity visa lottery, which Trump has long criticized.
She also told Fox News Channel that Trump might be open to a deal that would address the plight of hundreds of thousands of "Dreamer" immigrants who were brought to the country as children and are here illegally.
"We'll see," she said, later telling reporters, "The president made very clear in January 2018 in the Cabinet Room that he was willing to do a deal on DACA and the Dreamers."
A previous attempt by Trump to reach a comprehensive immigration deal with Congress collapsed last year and there is deep skepticism in Washington that there is any appetite on Capitol Hill for a wide-ranging agreement.
Trump put immigration at the center of his presidential campaign, including a promise to build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border. He is expected to continue to hammer the issue in his re-election campaign as he tries to energize his base of supporters.
At a lunch meeting of GOP senators, Vice President Mike Pence said support is growing for the White House's approach on border security.
"He thinks that's really turned in our favor," said Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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