ROBERT COSTA: Tonight, on this special edition of the Washington Week Extra.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From video.) The wall offer is off the table.
MR. COSTA: The fallout from the government shutdown. President Trump proposes a new path to citizenship for DREAMers and brings the debate over U.S. immigration abroad.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) America is a cutting-edge economy, but our immigration system is stuck in the past.
MR. COSTA: Plus, we look ahead to next week’s State of the Union and discuss how Vice President Mike Pence has become a foreign policy power player. I’m Robert Costa. We discuss it all, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Extra. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. Immigration and funding for a border wall continue to be the sticking points in negotiations to pass a spending bill to keep the federal government funded after February the 8th. And on Friday, President Trump spoke to some of the world’s top business executives and political leaders about the need to fix that U.S. system.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) We must replace our current system of extended family chain migration with a merit-based system of admissions that selects new arrivals based on their ability to contribute to our economy, to support themselves financially, and to strengthen our country.
MR. COSTA: A day earlier, the White House sent a one-page memo to congressional Republicans outlining President Trump’s plan. Here are the four key points: One, providing a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for so-called DREAMers and others who were brought to the U.S. as children, covering about 1.8 million people. Two, bolstering border security with a $25 billion trust fund for the border wall and other security enhancements. Three, eliminating the visa lottery system. And, four, changing legal immigration policy that prioritizes family members and spouses and minor children – would change the system so it prioritizes spouses and minor children only.
Joining me tonight to discuss all of this, Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters, Jake Sherman of POLITICO, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Brian Bennett of The Los Angeles Times.
Yeganeh, when you think about this proposal from the White House, it’s not just about illegal immigration or the wall. It’s about legal immigration. What are the consequences here?
YEGANEH TORBATI: Right. So for anyone who was really following President Trump’s rhetoric when he was a candidate, you know, they would have heard a lot about stopping the flows of illegal migrants into the country, and, you know, getting rid of people who were here illegally. But what’s really remarkable about the shift in the White House position and in President Trump’s position, even with some Republicans, is their focus now very much is cutting legal migration to the United States. You know, President Trump has talked about wanting to move more to a merit-based system.
But the cuts that the administration has proposed in that one-page document are not made up for, at least in that plan, with, you know, increases in employment-based visas or increasing the number of immigrants coming in through other ways into the United States. What they’ve basically proposed is – and we’ll have to find out some more details probably next week – but in the immigration categories that they would like to cut, that could be a 20 to 30 to probably around a 35 percent cut in the family-based immigration into the United States. And family-based migration makes up about 65 percent of all immigration into the United States. So we’re seeing a really drastic – a proposal for very drastic cuts in legal immigration in return for, you know, a path to citizenship for 1.8 million so-called DREAMers.
MR. COSTA: Why are the Democrats so averse to this, Karen? I mean, you look at the response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She says the GOP – the Trump plan will make America white again. I mean, it’s a harsh response, even though it includes this pathway to citizenship, at least for some.
KAREN TUMULTY: I think it was really interesting that the White House took this. I mean, they went big on both sides. They put in a big sweetener for the Democrats. And these are big changes in the immigration system. What the Democrats fear is that this is going to go back to an earlier system of immigration that existed before LBJ essentially changed it in 1965, that would be much more heavily tilted to people based on country of origin, that would essentially sort of maintain the demographic mix, among other things, of this country. So in their view, this is – this is – goes back to what were essentially racist immigration policies that existed from the 1920s until the mid-1960s.
MR. COSTA: Jake, what’s the reality on Capitol Hill, not just for the Trump plan, but for a DACA fix, for the DREAMers to have some kind of relief or status change before that March deadline?
JAKE SHERMAN: Virtually no chance before the March deadline, because Republicans have now gotten to believing it’s not a deadline because the court action which has stayed deportations, basically, for DACA recipients, for DREAMers. I think there is a very, very small chance of a global deal. I don’t think the dynamics exist in Congress that there is going to be some sort of large-scale immigration compromise, as we see being discussed in the Senate and being kind of whispered about in the House.
A couple dynamics to explore here. Democrats, for the most part, on the Hill, don’t believe they should be giving up such sweeping changes to the immigration system in exchange for a DACA fix, which they all believe should be price free – should be free for them. Republicans, meanwhile, in the Senate, they might be open to something big and global. In the House, though, Republicans are controlled – are driven by a small group of 30 to 40 Republicans that don’t believe in what Republicans have referred to as amnesty.
So you really have very difficult dynamics here that could, by the way, result in a – some sort of pressure for Paul Ryan to not put it on the floor. And we all – we’ve seen this happen before.
MR. COSTA: We’ve seen it happen before. And, Brian, Jake’s right. There is a hardline group in the House that is trying to prevent anything from moving forward. But when I was looking at President Trump stopping by Chief of Staff John Kelly’s office this week, I said there’s Brian Bennett. He’s in – he’s in the room for this background briefing on immigration. And the president came by, and he whispered in the doorway to reporters – I guess it wasn’t really a whisper – and he said: I’m open to a pathway to citizenship. And this is the same president who called minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, a few Fridays ago to come visit him and talk about immigration. So at the White House is there more of an openness than there is in the U.S. House?
BRIAN BENNETT: Well, we’re in the middle of a play that the White House is making that was set up in the fall when Donald Trump cancelled DACA with basically a six-month fuse. So Trump announces in September he’s going to cancel the DACA program and says: Congress, you have till March to fix it. And here’s – and what we just saw with this this one-page plan was the price to fix it. And the price is reducing legal immigration from about a million a year by up to 300,000 – probably reduce it to about 700,000 a year. And that is a big price to ask. And actually, for – it could lead to a fundamental demographic change in the United States over the course of decades.
And that is what has got Democrats so upset. And they’re asking the question: What is it – what is it that our immigration system is about? And what are we about as a country? And how do we make decisions? Do we make decisions that we want to let people in who already have money, who already have an education, who already have a shot in life? Or do we want to let in people who can benefit from the American system, and try to make something out of themselves, even if they come from nothing?
MR. COSTA: Yeganeh, when you think about if you’re a DREAMer and you’re waiting for all of this to unfold in a certain way, what are they doing behind the scenes? You cover those thousands of young undocumented immigrants every day.
MS. TORBATI: Well, they’re trying to put a lot of pressure on Democrats. They were really upset that Democrats agreed to reopen the government, for instance. They were hoping that – they and, you know, immigrant advocates were hoping that they would stick to their original demand that, you know, they wouldn’t pass any sort of spending bill and would agree – would shut down the government if there weren’t some agreement on, you know, resolving this issue for DREAMers.
But the reality is that, you know, every day individuals lose their DACA status, people who had been eligible to renew but didn’t by the deadline set by the administration. And once March 5th hits, an average of 1,100 DREAMers every day will expire out of their DACA status. And that’s going to create increasing pressure on Democrats, potentially on some moderate Republicans as we get into the 2018 midterms.
MR. COSTA: And February 8th, it’s coming up soon. And the government shutdown seems like it’s a month ago, but it just ended earlier this week on Monday. Any – are we going to see another shutdown again over immigration in early February?
MS. TUMULTY: We could be right back where we started. And the House is really and truly the key here. You know, if there is anything – the only conceivable deal that could pass would be something very narrow – essentially, a DACA fix, some money for the wall. And the question is whether under the pressure of this deadline that is where both sides ultimately live.
MR. COSTA: That talking stick they had among the moderates in the Senate, Senator Susan Collins. Could they be a driver here, Jake, at all? Or is it all about the House?
MR. SHERMAN: It’s all about the House. You’re right. I think the Senate does what it does. And the Senate’s kind of a real-life version of West Wing, right, where, like, bipartisan talking groups in backrooms could get deals done. When it gets to the House, it’s just, you know, get rid of this thing. I actually don’t think the government shuts down in February. But I do think it could shut down in the coming months because I don’t think Democrats are ready to touch the stove once again. And, remember, in the House, Republicans actually could keep the government open with just Republican votes. So I don’t think this time, but perhaps in March, April, May, as we get closer to the election and pressure builds, we could see another shutdown.
MR. BENNETT: And I think Democrats are reluctant to give too much away for an immigration deal because they see the midterms coming. They feel like this issue really mobilizes their base. And they don’t want to be accused of giving away the farm and selling dramatic changes in the immigration system for a small price.
MR. COSTA: And Stephen Miller, in the White House, the conservative advisor, is really shaping a lot of this proposal.
MR. BENNETT: Absolutely, Stephen Miller. This is – this is something that Stephen Miller has been wanting to do since he was working on Jeff Sessions’ staff in the Senate, which is let’s reduce the number of people who are allowed to come to the country to – allowed to come to the country legally every year, and try to put tight standards on who’s allowed to come based on what kind of job skills they have to try to increase wages in the United States and protect jobs for American workers.
MR. COSTA: Karen mentioned, Yeganeh, that it could be a small deal. Parts of border security for a DACA fix. What parts of border security are Democrats willing to support?
MS. TORBATI: Well, we saw in, you know, the so-called cheeseburger summit, the meeting between Senator Schumer and President Trump a couple days ago that, you know, Senator Schumer had basically agreed, verbally at least, to funding a border wall. And I think he’s later said in interviews since then that he actually doesn’t really think that a border wall can be built because of various restrictions and issues that ‒
MR. COSTA: An actual concrete wall or a fence or ‒
MS. TORBATI: Right. And, you know, there’s the Rio Grande and how do you kind of build around that, so they feel a little bit doubtful that that actually can happen.
MR. BENNETT: I mean, so when they talk about the trust fund, the $25 billion trust fund the White House wants for border security, it’s not just the wall. And, I mean, President Trump has already said it’s not going to be a full wall, but it’s also more deportation agents. They want to triple the number of deportation agents and they want to rapidly change the immigration courts to make it easier to deport people.
MR. COSTA: It’s not just immigration we’re paying attention to because President Trump will return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a State of the Union address. He’s expected to talk about infrastructure, as well as immigration, the state of the economy and that Republican tax law that was passed in December. But his address to the nation comes at a time when his approval ratings are historically low compared to those of his Republican and Democratic predecessors.
Many female Democratic lawmakers plan to wear black to the president’s address in solidarity with the movements protesting sexual harassment and misconduct. Other Democrats say they’ll skip the whole thing and protest the president’s recent remarks about immigrants from Haiti and African nations.
Jake, is the president going to have a bipartisan tone in this address, based on your reporting?
MR. SHERMAN: Probably not. But I think what we will see is we’ll see the beginning of the effort to sell the tax law, which is Republicans have kind of pushed all their chips in the middle for this midterm election, that the tax law that they passed, people will have more money in their pocket and they’ll feel like they should be voting for Republicans in November.
I think that there’s a lot of skepticism if you talk to Republicans behind the scenes that this will work. But they do say President Trump needs to be out there talking about businesses and individuals keeping more money, creating more jobs and nothing else. They don’t want him talking about other things, veering off on tangents. Get on the trail, get in front of cameras, talk about the American ‒
MR. COSTA: So not a big project on infrastructure in 2018?
MR. SHERMAN: A lot of people, my sources and I’m sure your sources, too, tell you on the Hill that’s probably not possible. The president wants to spend something like a trillion dollars on infrastructure. I don’t think he’s going to find much cooperation from Democrats or Republicans.
MR. COSTA: Karen.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, I think, you know, State of the Union addresses always begin with that line about, you know, ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is ‒ and I guarantee you that that line will be followed by a bunch of superlatives. (Laughter.) I think this is going to be Donald Trump’s hourlong, uninterrupted moment to really claim that he has made a lot of progress, that he has brought the country to a different place.
And what we have seen and saw in Davos is that Donald Trump on the teleprompter can do that. The question is whether Donald Trump 48 hours later on Twitter can maintain that message discipline.
MR. BENNETT: I think he’s going to try to make this case that he’s been making here and there over the last few months, which is that the stock market going up, look at your 401(k), this helps everyone in the country. And he’s going to try to make that case that even people maybe who didn’t see as much benefits of the tax cut ‒ he’s not going to say it this way ‒ but they’re going to benefit from a surge in the economy and a surge in optimism and businesses investing in new jobs and other things like that.
I’m sure also he’s going to bring up immigration. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the gallery, as he did when he addressed Congress a year ago, he brings up some people who maybe their loved ones were killed by people who were in the country illegally, or something like that, to try to make this security case for his immigration push that he’s been making.
MS. TORBATI: Certainly, that’s something the administration has been doing in a variety of methods over the past few weeks, trying to kind of make the case to the American people that there’s either a terrorism link to immigration, which, you know, some researchers who have looked at the data really, you know, kind of doubt, or that there’s a jobs link to immigration. So that’s ‒ I’m sure it’s likely to be a big part of the speech.
MR. SHERMAN: One quick point: He does have a good message on the stock market, right? I mean, the stock market is breaking records. People’s 401(k)s probably, if they have them, and not every American has a 401(k), they are up. I mean, there is a message here if crafted right and kept within a general discipline. It’s a good message for Republicans.
MR. COSTA: So the sides are digging in. So the president will tout his accomplishments and the Democrats are really readying for a midterm election, Karen. Will they think they can have a possible wave?
MS. TUMULTY: They certainly do. And, you know, at this point, what they need are a few things breaking their way. They need to come up with some good candidates who can appeal to voters in these districts where they’ve got, in particular, Republican incumbents who are sitting in seats in districts that were won by Hillary Clinton. But certainly, the Democrats think they’ve got a huge opportunity here.
MR. COSTA: And Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts will be giving the Democratic response, a younger generation of Democrats. They’re trying to highlight them at least.
MS. TUMULTY: Exactly. I think they want to ‒ they want the world to know that not every Democrat of note is 70 years old or older. These spots, though, this chance to be the person who responds to the State of the Union, hasn’t always worked out so well for people who have given it, though. So this will be a big moment for the next generation of Kennedys.
MR. SHERMAN: I think from my reporting, Democrats are incredibly bullish about taking back the House and feel like they look at these generic ballot numbers where people say their preference between Democrats and Republicans, they keep ticking up. They’re 12 points, and 12 points means you take back, according to them, something like 35 to 40 seats. So they want to do no harm at this point, Democrats, and they don’t want to tie themselves to Trump, don’t have the incentive to cooperate with the president, especially coming up to a midterm election where they think they’re in really good shape.
MR. COSTA: Let’s talk about someone who will be at that State of the Union address, Vice President Pence, who has emerged as a point person when it comes to foreign policy, but he’s also a quiet power player inside the White House. His trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel this week is a good example of how much the Trump administration is shifting America’s Middle East policy.
The vice president has also proven to be somewhat of an asset of sorts when it comes to courting the conservative base. And that’s why on Friday, when much of Washington was consumed by those reports that the president tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Vice President Pence was meeting with Republican senators to plan out a strategy to limit the midterm losses that we’ve been discussing, the potential ones, because it could be a pretty bruising midterm election.
Brian, you’ve covered Vice President Pence very closely, traveled with him. What is his role in the administration right now?
MR. BENNETT: So two things. One, he’s going to be out there trying to bolster Republican ‒ trying to bolster the Republican candidates during the midterm elections. He’s planning to go to Pennsylvania on February 2nd for a rally. He was making calls on Capitol Hill and was at a fundraiser on Capitol Hill today. Today was actually kind of his launch off for really being out there on that.
He’s going to do that and he’s also going to be doing a lot of foreign trips this year, which is unusual for him. It’s a new step for him. He’s really trying to develop a relationship with a few world leaders. I mean, he went to Egypt and met with the Egyptian president there, Sisi, and went to Jordan and was berated by the Jordanian king. And then he went to Israel and did kind of a victory lap for Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
MR. COSTA: And he was forcefully defending President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem while he was abroad in the Middle East. What does that tell us about U.S. foreign policy and his role in that?
MS. TORBATI: Well, it shows, you know, partially that he’s a driving force in that decision and that the Trump administration isn’t backing down from that choice, which was very controversial and which, you know, even U.S. allies have condemned and said, you know, is really not constructive and is not going to get the Palestinians and Israelis closer to a deal. The administration, although some officials have said some contradictory things, appears to be moving ahead with that decision.
MR. COSTA: Inside of ‒ he’s a former House member.
MR. SHERMAN: He is.
MR. COSTA: But he’s not always involved in the deals on Capitol Hill. It seems like the president often goes to Senator Schumer or others. He’s not relying on Vice President Pence in the same way he used to in the health care debate.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, I do think he does, Pence does have his ear to the ground when it comes to the conservatives. And there’s plenty of anecdotes that many of us have heard about Pence going into the conservative meetings and saying I’m one of you guys, when I was in the House I was a rabblerousing conservative, you should come and listen to me and listen to the president. It works sometimes, doesn’t work others.
Listen, Pence has relationships with Paul Ryan and a lot of the members in the House and could be very useful in the House, a little bit less so in the Senate. But he does appear at every Senate Republican lunch every week, something that Joe Biden did not do; he came periodically. Mike Pence is there every single week, he’s a constant presence.
MR. COSTA: Karen, what does it mean for Pence? Our colleague Jenna Johnson at The Washington Post was with the vice president, just talked about in her reporting how he echoes the president everywhere he goes. Is he the future of Trumpism?
MS. TUMULTY: And I think he is also positioning himself to be the future of the Republican Party. To see him, you know, a person who’s experienced as a House member, as a Midwestern governor, on the world stage standing toe-to-toe with world leaders, standing up for policies like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, it doesn’t exactly hurt him with the conservative base back at home to be being criticized by the king of Jordan.
MR. COSTA: That Evangelical community in the country, the conservative side of it, has stayed with the president, in part because of Vice President Pence?
MR. BENNETT: I think that’s exactly right, and Pence has pushed for this robust pro-Israel policy. He’s also pushed for some of the pro-life initiatives that Trump has pushed through.
I mean, another interesting thing about Pence was that when he went overseas he brought domestic politics with him, which the vice president doesn’t usually do. So he did leave town on Friday, which was during the shutdown, which was sort of strange since he is supposed to have influence. I mean, someone told me that basically his influence is with the conservatives in the House, so he wasn’t going to be that useful in trying to broker a deal on the shutdown. But he went over there, and he stood in front of troops on Sunday at a – at a military base, and he launched a broadside against the Democrats over the shutdown and blamed them for playing politics with military pay.
MS. TUMULTY: Something, by the way, that American leaders usually do not on foreign soil practice partisan politics.
MS. TORBATI: And in front of the troops. That’s usually not done.
MR. COSTA: And how does the immigration advocacy community see him amid all of this? Do they –
MS. TORBATI: I don’t – I don’t think that he’s really been sort of a driving force behind the administration’s immigration policies. I think he sort of leaves that to some of the hardliners within the White House, namely Chief of Staff John Kelly, Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller. And of course the president himself has some pretty far-right or right views on immigration. I don’t – I don’t see Vice President Pence being kind of a driving role in that debate.
MR. COSTA: But that visit, it’s interesting. He’s going to Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania – Trump country – ahead of a March special election. That’s a race I’m paying close attention to. Conor Lamb is the candidate down there, in his 30s, a Democrat. If the Democrats can win in southwestern Pennsylvania in a special election, watch out.
We’re going to have to leave it there tonight. Thanks, everybody, for being with us.
A reminder that President Trump will deliver that State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 30th, at nine p.m. Eastern. Be sure to tune in to Judy Woodruff and the PBS NewsHour for complete coverage.
And remember, if you miss the show or the Extra, you can always watch it online at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks so much for joining us.