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Hard-liners rate Donald Trump's immigration policy from sketchy to 'sugar-coated amnesty'

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Welcome to Trail Guide, your daily tour through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign led by the L.A. Times political team. It's Thursday, July 30, and this is what we're watching:

  • Donald Trump's  attempt to lay out an immigration policy got low marks even from those who ostensibly agree with his views
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton   noted  in an interview that she advocated early on to President Obama that he choose a different strategy to help rebels in the Syrian civil war, which helped give rise to the Islamic State
  • And after weeks of restricting access, she is engaging with voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, too.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders  got a rock star's welcome at a rally on the Hill celebrating 50 years of Medicare
  • Sanders pitched the AFL-CIO Wednesday; it was Clinton's turn Thursday. No endorsement coming soon
  • Yesterday's highlights : Trump and the pump, Cuba politics, Clinton tones down Planned Parenthood defense

In Chicago, Lindsey Graham talks immigration

 (Scott Olson/Getty)

(Scott Olson/Getty)

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina brought his Republican presidential campaign to Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood Thursday, where he received accolades for backing a comprehensive immigration reform plan that includes an eventual pathway to citizenship.

"It's not about the Republican Party. It's about us as a nation, right? If we don't get immigration right, we're going to die on the vine as a nation," Graham told more than 100 people at a forum hosted by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition.

Read more of this report in the Chicago Tribune.

Read more

Donald Trump up in Quinnipiac poll one week before debate

 (Jim Cole / Associated Press)

(Jim Cole / Associated Press)

A new campaign poll released Thursday had Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field, the latest barometer to cement the real-estate mogul's status as a front-runner in the race.

Trump netted 20% support in the Quinnipiac University poll, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 13% and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10%.

Despite Trump's showing, 30% of Republicans polled said they would not support him. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie trailed Trump in this category at 15% and Bush at 14%.

“They love him and they hate him. Donald Trump triumphs on the stump so far, but do voters really want him? Maybe not so much,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said in a statement.

The survey was also notable for what it revealed about voters' view of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is polling in the top 10 of the crowded GOP field. Kasich entered the race July 21 and appears to be benefiting from that well-timed decision with the support new candidates often attract in polls. He visited several early nominating states in the last week. A "super PAC" supporting his candidacy is airing television ads such states, including New Hampshire.

He hopes to make the stage Aug. 6 for the prime-time debate, where Fox News will allow only up to the top 10 candidates from recent national polls to participate.

The Quinnipiac poll was taken July 23-28, interviewed about 1,600 registered voters and has a margin of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

I, both publicly and privately, have urged the administration to pay more attention to health and environmental regulations, to workers' rights and wages, to currency manipulation.... Because I think those are really critical issues that have to be addressed.
Hillary Rodham Clinton following a meeting with leaders of the AFL-CIO on Thursday

Even the right thinks Trump's immigration policy is a mess

Donald Trump's hard-line, tell-it-like-it-is posture on immigration has been central to his rise in the polls. But what do actual hard-liners on immigration think about his proposals?

Not much.

Two leading groups that advocate tighter immigration laws and have opposed congressional efforts to compromise on reform legislation have described Trump's positions as sketchy at best and “sugar-coated amnesty” at worst. Trump is given credit for thrusting the issue into the debate, but where he goes from there is worrisome, they say.

“To his credit, Trump has teed up the immigration issue, and it reflects the public's frustration with immigration,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based advocacy group, using an apropos golf metaphor for the course-owning real estate tycoon. “The problem is, he's got a clumsy swing, and he keeps ending up in the rough.”

Dane was referring to Trump's recent attempt to articulate a position on how to address the legal status of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The Republican presidential candidate in various interviews says he would divide those people into two categories — the “good ones” and the “bad ones” — but he has not described the criteria for who falls in which group.

He suggested deserving immigrants would be allowed to stay in the U.S., something the advocates at NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group, consider amnesty. The comment earned Trump a “harmful” rating on the issue on its candidate scorecard. The group sent an email last weekend to its list of 1.5 million people, tell them to express their displeasure with the Trump campaign, said Roy Beck, the group's founder and president.

Beck says he's since seen Trump calibrate those statements. In interviews this week, the candidate has filled in the gaps, now suggesting he wants to force all immigrants out of the country and then allow some “good ones” back in through an expedited process.

“I want to move them out. I want to move them back in and let them be legal. But they have to be in here legally,” he told CNN on Wednesday night, adding he did not favor any path to citizenship.

“Later, down the line, who knows what's going to happen?” he said. “It's something I would think about, but right now, no, I'm not open to it.”

Beck likened Trump's sketchy proposal to “touch-back” plans that have been floated by some Republican politicians trying to find a middle ground between calling for the deportation of millions of people and endorsing the path to citizenship that immigrant rights advocates support.

The idea has never received much traction as the logistics of deporting millions of people only to let them back in — and ahead of others — has struck some on the left and right as unfair and expensive.

It would reward immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally, be costly to execute and still doesn't address the problem of immigrants filing jobs he believes should go to U.S. citizens, Beck said.

“All that cost and yet they're still coming back in taking jobs,” Beck said.

Dane wasn't on board either.

“The idea that somebody who's residing illegally has to leave, touch soil and reapply has been a means for politicians to sort of soft-peddle an amnesty,” Dane said. “It's an attempt to sugarcoat an amnesty because there's an intermediate step, but at the end of the day, by doing that, you're simply incentivizing more people to come into the U.S. illegally so they can do the same thing.”

Beck, who ranks former Sen. Rick Santorum highest on the scorecard, allowed that Trump may be getting closer to the target. He bumped up Trump's ranking to “mixed.” It could take time and coaching, he said.

“He's not a policy person,” Beck said. “I'm not saying he's necessarily wrong on those issues; he's just got a big learning curve ahead of him.”

Trump has been even more cryptic on the subject of the so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. On Wednesday, the candidate himself seemed perplexed.

"I have been giving it so much thought. You have — on a humanitarian basis, you have a lot of deep thought going into this, believe me. I actually have a big heart, something that nobody knows. A lot of people don't understand that. But the Dreamers, it's a tough situation. We're going to do something. And one of the things we are going to do is expedite. When someone is terrific, we want them back here," he said. "But they have to be legally. They're with their parents, it depends."

Clinton and her brothers made quiet stop at father's grave

Sanders: I'm 'not quite a rock star, just a senator from Vermont.' The screaming crowd begs to differ

Sen. Bernie Sanders insisted Thursday morning that he wasn't a rock star, but it was hard to tell from the response of the crowd at a Washington event celebrating Medicare.

He took the stage to raucous cheers, and when he left, the rally near the Capitol had to pause while attendees fought for a selfie with him.

But asked by the speaker introducing him whether he expected the rock-star treatment he's found on the campaign trail in his unexpectedly energetic challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sanders demurred.

“Not quite a rock star, just a senator from Vermont,” he said.

Sanders, a self-declared socialist, was speaking in front of a rally celebrating the 50th anniversary of Medicare being signed into law. Attendees in bright primary colors signaling the unions they represented mixed with liberal activists rallying to expand the entitlement program, representing the type of Democrats most supportive of Sanders' long-shot bid for the White House.

At times, it seemed the candidate was less campaigning for new supporters than reconvening with old friends.

“If Bernie Sanders were the president of the United States, this celebration would be taking place in the White House,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and an executive committee member of the AFL-CIO. “He is one of us.”

To some at the rally, Sanders' longstanding relationship with labor organizations was a key selling point. Kathy Wanger said she had first heard of Sanders a few years before, when he addressed her union, and was disappointed that he was not planning on running for higher office at the time.

“He is a very, very strong supporter of Medicare for all,” said Andrea Miller, a rally attendee who said she had been involved in movements to draft Sanders to run. “Always has been.”

Sanders' strong support among liberal Democrats has helped him beat expectations so far, but he'll need to move beyond existing supporters if he hopes to offer a serious challenge to Clinton. Donna Stern, a union member visiting from western Massachusetts - “the liberal part,” she clarified - said she loved the speech, but was ready to organize for the Sanders campaign even before hearing it.

“I'm already energized,” she said.

Cruz finds a place to boost his platform – the Senate

 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Running for president and serving in the Senate are both full-time jobs. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is one of five people trying to do both.

Occasionally, it can be difficult to tell which one he's doing.

As Cruz fights to define himself in in an increasingly crowded field, his day job is an attractive platform for garnering attention and burnishing his conservative credentials. He's following a time-honored tradition of politicians using their office to their advantage as they seek a higher one.

Cruz, known for his combative style and willingness to buck his party's establishment, usually finds the limelight. On Wednesday, he used his power as chair of a Senate subcommittee to interrogate the head of the Internal Revenue Service about accusations that the agency had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofits in 2012.

Before getting to the point of the hearing, though, he took the opportunity to pontificate on the U.S. tax system.

“With the exponential growth of the tax code, we have seen the creation of an entity I believe is no longer serving the American people,” he said in his opening statement. His campaign tweeted a story about the hearing with the hash tag #AbolishTheIRS and later shared coverage of his invocation of the ghost of Richard Nixon.

The week before, he used the same subcommittee chairmanship to lambast the Supreme Court for rulings unpopular with conservatives. At the time, his campaign promised that Cruz's Supreme Court credentials would be an aspect of his case to the conservative base.

“He's a U.S. senator and he has responsibilities to 26 million Texans to represent them in the United States Senate,” said campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler. “He takes that job very seriously, and you've seen that over the past few days.

“It shouldn't surprise anybody that those would be the same issues that he talks about in his campaign for president,” Tyler added.

Clinton distances herself from Obama on Islamic State

Hillary Rodham Clinton put some distance between herself and the Obama administration's handling of the fight against Islamic State militants, saying she had pushed, unsuccessfully, to do more early on to help Syrian moderate forces in the fight against President Bashar Assad.

"I believed that they would be more likely to work with the United States and the West if we supported them early," Clinton said in the morning email newsletter theSkimm.

"That was not the policy that was adopted at that time."

President Obama had been reluctant to arm opposition fighters early in the conflict, in part because of fear the weapons could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists also engaged in the civil war. Clinton's view would have aligned her more closely with the likes of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who regularly pushed the administration to do more to intervene in the conflict.

After the rise of Islamic State in the summer of 2014, Obama did ultimately seek and receive congressional authority for a plan to arm rebel forces, though some critics said it was too late and that the ranks of reliable opposition fighters had already been diminished.

Clinton said in theSkimm that she did not want to be seen as "second-guessing" the administration.

"It's always hard in retrospect to say what would've happened if something else had been decided," she said. But "I think our efforts now to try to train and arm so-called moderates inside of Syria is made much more difficult because Al Qaeda groups, ISIS groups, other terrorist groups have really flooded the zone."

In the wide-ranging interview with theSkimm, or "guest Skimming" as the newsletter calls it, Clinton also recalled her days as a fish slimer in Alaska, which she said made for good training for presidential elections, and said her biggest weakness was her impatience.

"I am impatient and I sometimes come across as impatient, which is not always attractive, and [I] get really frustrated with people who don't understand what I think it's going to take to make our country great tomorrow just like we were yesterday," she said.

Down-ballot news: Becerra passes on Senate run

Rep. Xavier Becerra announced Thursday morning that he would not seek the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, increasing the likelihood that the race will come down to a contest between Kamala Harris, the state attorney general, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, both Democrats.

Becerra, a Los Angeles Democrat, said he will instead seek reelection. The length of Becerra's deliberations made it increasingly likely he would forgo the bid for higher office.

“My decision came down to this: 'Where can I make the biggest difference for hardworking people like my parents?'” he said in a statement.

Becerra is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, a term-limited position but one that puts him in the mix for one of the top three spots, if those above him, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, choose to step down in the next few years. Becerra also cited his position as the top Democrat on the Social Security subcommittee.

Republicans in the Senate race include Rocky Chávez, an assemblyman from Oceanside and former state Republican chairman Tom Del Beccaro. Democrats are favored to retain the seat.

Let's get a pull-up bar out there and see who can do more pull-ups.
GOP candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry jokes when asked about Donald Trump's claims that Perry lacks "energy" and "toughness."

Clinton opens up to the press and to voters

 (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Are the days of small, private gatherings, ignored shouted questions and corralled reporters a thing of the past? Probably not. But The Times' David Lauter and Seema Mehta note that things are loosening up a bit in the Clinton camp.

"In four days of campaigning through Iowa and New Hampshire this week, Clinton held two town hall meetings in which she took questions from voters, conducted three informal news conferences, gave seven interviews to local media outlets and dived into crowds, taking pictures with voters, unfettered by rope lines," they write.

The new approach was a response to "considerable grumbling" in Iowa and New Hampshire that may have given Sen. Bernie Sanders an opening.

Read more

Trail highlights: Trump and the pump, Cuba politics, Clinton and Planned Parenthood

Your Trail Guide was busy yesterday. If you were too, here's what you missed:

> News outlets are taking Donald Trump seriously and digging into his past. The New York Times found a still-heated dispute over a breast pump.

> Hillary Rodham Clinton toned down her defense of Planned Parenthood, calling the undercover videos 'disturbing'

> Clinton announced plans to call for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, wading into Florida's shifting politics

> Rand Paul is still struggling to reboot his campaign

> Donald Trump said he would consider giving Sarah Palin a post in his administration

> Rick Perry addressed Wall Street, largely attacking Clinton and Democrats

> Top-tier Republicans will make the pilgrimage to a Southern California resort this weekend to court the Koch brothers

By the numbers

How does Clinton or Trump get to 270 electoral votes? Play with our map.

Third debate scorecard: Here's who's winning each round

All things Clinton | All things Trump

Who's endorsing who? Find out which celebrities support each candidate.

Find out which Republicans support Donald Trump

Get free news and analysis in your inbox daily from our political team.

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