White House demands major immigration overhaul while mocking lawmakers

CongressImmigrationWhite House
reporting from washington

White House demands major immigration overhaul while mocking lawmakers

 (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The White House set an ambitious goal for Congress Tuesday — passing a comprehensive immigration overhaul in six months — even as it belittled fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate for failing to pass laws and for taking a summer recess.

The twin messages could hurt President Trump’s already fractious relationship with congressional leaders and make it more difficult for the president to pass an already-crowded legislative agenda that faces multiple obstacles.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Congress needs to provide more than “just a one-piece fix” to replace the Obama-era program that gives temporary work permits to about 800,000 migrants who came to America illegally as children.

“We’ve got to do an overall immigration reform that is responsible and frankly that’s lawful,” she said during her daily news briefing at the White House.

“The goal here is that Congress actually fixes the problem,” she added.

She suggested that legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should include, among other provisions, money to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

The wall was a key Trump promise on the campaign trail, but it has gone nowhere in Congress. Democrats needed to pass an immigration overhaul are unlikely to support providing money for the border barrier.

“I don’t think the president’s been shy about the fact that he wants a wall and certainly something that he feels is an important part of a responsible immigration reform package,” Sanders said.

She declined to say what Trump would agree to sign, but said a congressional bill also should include improvements in border control, enhanced vetting of visitors, stricter enforcement of immigration laws and other elements that she said would help American workers.

Trump’s action Tuesday to phase out DACA was accompanied by his demand that Congress pass a replacement in the next six months. Sanders’ comments appeared to broaden that to a far more ambitious immigration overhaul in that narrow time frame.

Immigration matters are always contentious and Congress has a lengthy list of unrelated legislation that is needed to prevent government shutdown or default, or is part of the Republican agenda, this fall.

Congress has repeatedly failed to pass immigration laws even without a deadline. In the most recent serious attempt, the Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul in 2013 - but the bill died in the House when GOP leaders refused to take it up.

Sanders may have added to the tension between Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress by mocking their failure to pass any major legislation this year — and then taking their annual summer break.

“They just came back from a three-week vacation. I think that they should be — uh — rested and ready to take on some big challenges,” she said. Most lawmakers work from their home state or district during the recess.

Trump similarly took what he called a 17-day working vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey.

Sanders attempted to deflect responsibility for a DACA fix from Trump, who let Congress take the lead in writing such high-priority items as healthcare and tax reform bills. The healthcare bill failed and the tax reform bill has yet to emerge.

“It’s Congress’s job to legislate,” Sanders said. “The American people elected them to do it. And if they can’t, then they should get out of the way and let somebody else take their job, that can actually get something done.”

Members of Congress rarely appreciate admonishments from the White House. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, demanded more specifics from Trump.

“It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign,” he said. “We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president won’t sign.”

Staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this article.

Latest updates