WASHINGTON — 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.