President Donald Trump dimmed the chances of a bipartisan deal on immigration reform when he reportedly bashed Haiti and African countries last week, Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said Tuesday, calling the president’s comments “embarrassing” and “uncalled for.”
“It’s a setback,” Upton said Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The uproar continued Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that she couldn’t remember the president using the word “-----hole” to describe those countries in a closed-door meeting with Democratic and GOP lawmakers. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey criticized Nielsen’s memory, saying Trump’s language can give license to bigotry and hate.
Democrats and a few Republicans have criticized the president for the remarks that were publicized by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and others who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorized to describe it publicly.
Trump tweeted that Durbin, the second-highest Democrat in the Senate, misrepresented what he had said about African nations and Haiti and, in the process, undermined the trust needed to make an immigration reform deal.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, is blaming Trump’s staff for the president’s about-face that appeared to scuttle a compromise deal to protect from deportation young people brought to the United States as children and living here illegally. President Barack Obama had issued the executive orders protecting 800,000 illegal immigrants 15 and older who have continuously lived in America since June 2007.
Upton, R-St. Joseph, and other Michigan lawmakers are expecting a busy week in Washington, D.C., as Congress and the president seek to find consensus on funding the government through a continuing budget resolution and immigration reforms, including extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Trump in September announced he would end Obama-era executive orders that have protected childhood arrivals from deportation but urged Congress to extend the program in statute by a March 5 deadline for renewals.
Trump was correct to have Congress deal with the issue, said Upton, who said he wants a legislative solution to protect the immigrants who were illegally brought to the country as children.
“They’ve been here for maybe even more than a decade,” he said. “They’re part of the workforce. They’re paying taxes. They’ve got no criminal record.”
Trump had been questioning why the United States would accept more immigrants from Haiti and parts of Africa rather than countries such as overwhelmingly white Norway, prompting accusations of racism and insensitivity.
But in responding to questions as he met with Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev at the White House on Tuesday, Trump said he wants immigrants to come to the United States from “everywhere.”
“We want ‘em to come in from everywhere, everywhere,” he said before asking the press to leave.
While lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they want to protect the childhood arrivals, Trump has also pushed them to reform other areas of the immigration system, including border security, “chain” migration and the visa lottery.
“Those four principles are going to drive the DACA talks, and there’s a chance we could see a bipartisan agreement this week,” Upton said. “It will probably originate in the Senate, not House,” and it could “piggy back on the continuing resolution.”
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, agreed with Upton that the president’s controversial comment “makes everything more difficult.”
Peters said at the Detroit auto show that the budget bill is “truly in a state of flux right now” but hopes it includes important provisions, including continuing of the childhood arrivals program and funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Upton, Dave Trott of Birmingham and Tim Walberg of Tipton are among the Michigan GOP lawmakers who also want to reinstate CHIP funding, as do Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.
“It’s already a challenge to bring consensus and to bring people together in Washington, D.C., and the president’s actions only make it more difficult,” Peters said.
Upton, who is running for re-election in the House after considering a run for Senate, has faced pressure to do more than just criticize Trump’s comments.
Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the America’s Voice immigration reform group, urged Upton to push for inclusion of the so-called Dream Act in the year-end spending bill.
“This is a moment of reckoning,” Tramonte said in a statement. “Simply denouncing Trump’s words is not enough. Our leaders need to do things that bring Americans together, not pit them against each other.”
The Associated Press contributed