'Not Just Talking Points': Kushner's New Tack on Immigration - NBC New York
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'Not Just Talking Points': Kushner's New Tack on Immigration

Trump and Kushner met Tuesday afternoon with a dozen Republican senators who seemed largely receptive to the effort

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    'Not Just Talking Points': Kushner's New Tack on Immigration
    Susan Walsh/AP
    An art installation, on display outside the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, shows a mother reaching out to her child to mark the first anniversary of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" family separation policy.

    Hastily written executive orders. Declarations by tweet.

    President Donald Trump's White House hasn't been known for its careful crafting of policy.

    But Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, has spent months drawing up a long-awaited immigration overhaul plan that the White House began to roll out Tuesday.

    Frustrated by congressional inaction and stinging Republican defeats, Kushner has been meeting with GOP groups and speaking with lawmakers to try to fashion a plan that the president and his party might be able to unite behind. He's been assisted by a team that includes experts in drafting legislation so that he can be less reliant on Capitol Hill, according to people familiar with the efforts.

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    It's a new approach for an administration with few legislative achievements and facing the challenges of navigating a hostile Democratic House, where many legislators are more intent on investigating the president than working with him, especially in an area as contentious as immigration.

    "The fact is this president is taking the lead. He's not waiting on Congress," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News on Tuesday.

    Officials stressed that the plan could evolve in response to feedback. But so far it includes two prongs: A border security bill that would focus, in part, on modernizing ports of entry, and a package of revisions to legal immigration that aims to create a more "merit-based" system giving preference to those with job skills rather than relatives of immigrants already in the country. A senior administration official told reporters that the total number of immigrants allowed into the country would not change under the plan — only the types of immigrants admitted.

    The White House is also working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on additional legislation that would address the nation's asylum system, in an effort to stem the flow of migrants across the border, according to the official, who outlined the plan on condition of anonymity because public discussion was not authorized.

    It's not the first time the White House has tried to sell Congress on Trump's immigration priorities and it's unclear whether Republicans — let alone Democrats — will be on board. There is deep doubt in Washington that there is any appetite on Capitol Hill for a wide-ranging agreement.

    Trump and Kushner met Tuesday afternoon with a dozen Republican senators who seemed largely receptive to the effort. But several said they were awaiting more details.

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    Kushner's team began meeting in January with conservative, business and other groups, soliciting input on a subject Congress has struggled for decades to address. Though he had no previous background on the contentious subject, Kushner has tried to replicate the playbook he used to help push bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation across the finish line last year.

    Unlike that effort, however, this time the White House has made no outreach to Democrats, with Kushner instead looking to draft a plan that Republicans can rally around to make clear what the party is "for" as Trump heads into what is expected to be a brutal re-election campaign.

    Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower rates of immigration and has provided input on the plan, said that, as part of the effort, Kushner's team was working to craft legislation in-house instead of leaving it to Congress. Several weeks ago, the team added staff with experience in legislation-writing, including George Fishman, deputy general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security.

    "It's not just talking points or goals at this point," Vaughan said.

    It's unclear, however, how members of Congress might respond to that approach. A big legislative package coming from the White House could be panned by lawmakers unless they had a role to play in the sausage making.

    Trump's signature legislative achievement — the Republican tax cut bill — was the product of careful collaboration between the White House, Treasury and Republican leaders in Congress, who agreed on a broad framework and then left the details to the Senate Ways and Means and Finance committees.

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    One person briefed on the immigration plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions, said White House officials had made clear that they had grown tired of waiting on Congress and did not want a repeat of their last, much-hyped immigration push — a "four pillars" plan rolled out in early 2018 that failed to gain traction.

    But some Republican members question Kushner's broad-ranging approach.

    Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of GOP leadership, said Kushner had been "vetting ideas with the president, making progress there, and also with members of the Senate. I've been encouraging him to do that." But he suggested more narrowly tailored bills might more successful.

    "Having seen our experience, going big and ending up nowhere," he said, "I think we're better off trying to address this in a targeted sort of way."

    Vaughan, whose group is concerned that Kushner's proposal will be too accommodating to business groups that want more immigrant workers, urged Trump to prioritize the southern border, where a surge in Central American migrant families has been overwhelming federal resources. She also cautioned against a top-down approach, saying that "it's very unlikely that members of Congress are going to just accept something that comes over from the White House."

    AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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    Trump has signed off on Kushner's immigration plan
    By JILL COLVIN Associated Press
    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has signed off on a new immigration plan being spearheaded by senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner that appeared to receive a positive reception from Republican senators briefed on it Tuesday.
    A senior administration official told reporters after the meeting that the president had approved the effort to overhaul America's immigration system and increase border security last week and that it should now be considered "the President Trump plan."
    Kushner is working to finalize a plan with two major components: Border security measures that would include efforts to secure ports of entry and a package of 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. Under the plan, the same number of immigrants would be permitted to enter the country, but the composition would change.
    The White House is also working with Sen. Lindsey Graham on additional legislation that would address the nation's asylum system in an effort to stem the flow of migrants across the border, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline the plan.
    Several GOP senators who attended complimented the effort, which the White House deemed "productive." Democrats were not in attendance.
    "The president and senators discussed a potential plan that would secure the border, protect and raise wages for the American worker, and move toward a merit-based immigration system," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a written readout of the meeting.
    Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona complimented Kushner and the White House.
    "They have done substantial work," she told Fox News in an interview at the White House after the meeting.
    After he returned to the Capitol, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas described a "very good productive conversation. ... I heard large areas of agreement from everyone in the room." Cotton said he still needs to see the details but things are "moving in the right direction."
    And Sen, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota called it a "good starting point" that could be appealing to Democrats in the right situation.
    "I think the environment right now with the booming economy, workforce demands, a crisis at the border that's no longer deemed manufactured presents an opportunity for discussion," he said.
    Any immigration plan will be an uphill challenge on Capitol Hill where lawmakers have struggled for decades to pass comprehensive immigration 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 are 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.
    Grassley, who favors stricter immigration enforcement, kept expectations in check before the meeting.
    "Well I think anything I'm looking for they probably won't have any chance of getting passed," he told reporters.
    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 writers Lisa Mascaro and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
    ___

    Follow Colvin and Superville on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvin

    President Donald Trump has signed off on a new immigration plan being spearheaded by senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner that appeared to receive a positive reception from Republican senators briefed on it Tuesday.Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.