As the White House prepares to negotiate a new but controversial immigration proposal made to Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been cut off by the Trump administration on the contentious issue.
Why the White House made the move is not clear.
White House officials speaking on background told LifeZette they are angry at Graham for attacking President Donald Trump’s point man on immigration, aide Stephen Miller, on Sunday night.
Media reports also indicate Trump himself is angry that Graham worked with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on a proposal that gave away too much in exchange for a White House plan to make legal as many as 800,000 illegal aliens who were brought here as children.
The illegal aliens, now adults, were granted limited amnesty by former President Barack Obama in 2012 through an executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Trump rescinded DACA in September, and expirations of DACA papers begin in March.
The main problem for Graham, though, is his attack on Miller. Last Sunday, Graham was walking through the Senate, wearing a ball cap and looking disheveled. While the president was nearing a victory on the government shutdown, Graham blamed White House staff for causing the immigration-related shutdown. Graham stopped to talk to reporters when he decided to blame Miller for the impasse.
“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we’re going nowhere.”
Graham said Miller, 32, had been “an outlier” for “years” on the issue. Miller is a former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and helped both Sessions and Trump develop their populist immigration policies. Trump grabbed Miller as an aide in the 2016 presidential campaign, then made Sessions attorney general.
A White House staff member noted Graham had been attacking Miller for a few days prior to the Sunday remarks, but the impromptu and well-publicized remarks particularly angered Trump staffers. On Sunday night, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Graham was being “ridiculous.”
Then sometime during the week, the White House decided to cut Graham out of future negotiations. House Republicans, speaking anonymously, also told the Washington Examiner that Graham’s involvement was the kiss of death in the more conservative lower body.
Graham was already viewed with deep suspicion by many in the Republican base for his involvement with the “Gang of Eight” immigration negotiations in 2013. The GOP sought to work with Democrats to reform immigration after the 2012 presidential election, in which Obama won re-election by a surprisingly healthy margin. In a GOP “autopsy” done by the Republican National Committee, anti-immigration stridency was seen as a big reason.
The bill the “gang” produced passed the Senate but failed to reach the House floor for a vote. The bill was labeled “amnesty” by conservative news sites such as Breitbart. The Republicans learned a harsh lesson — that their base cares deeply about illegal immigration — and Trump rode the issue into the White House.
Trump apparently worked on a new proposal, reported Thursday, that would expand amnesty and extend citizenship to as many as 1.8 million illegal aliens. The proposal has drawn fire from the Right and the Left. It appears Graham did not work on the proposal.
The last time Graham talked immigration with Trump, he brought Durbin to the White House on January 11 to talk about a new deal. Trump, without Graham’s knowledge, invited immigration hardliner Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The Washington Post reported Sunday that Miller was seen as the culprit in inviting Cotton — but Trump invited Cotton.
But what perhaps angered Trump most was what Graham and Durbin offered in the proposal. Non-immigrants from nations such as El Salvador and Haiti were offered amnesty because they had fled natural disasters. They were previously offered Temporary Protected Status (TPS) but declined to return home. Trump has revoked TPS for people from several nations hit by natural disasters in the previous decade.
Durbin leaked Trump’s remarks to the media about such refugees, including allegations that Trump called Haiti and El Salvador “s***hole nations.”
Trump tends to blame people in wide circles when a meeting like that goes south and then hits the press. For Graham, the remarks about Miller may have been the final straw.