On Tuesday evening, in a State of the Union address billed as “optimistic, heartfelt, and bipartisan,” President Donald Trump revealed just how fractured Congress is on the issue that swept him into the White House: immigration.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been scrambling to piece together legislation that would address the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, alongside other reforms dear to Trump’s heart, including curtailing chain migration and ending the visa lottery system. Last week, the White House unveiled its “four pillars” of immigration reform: a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers” and those undocumented immigrants who would otherwise qualify for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; a $25 billion trust for a wall along the Mexican border; ending the visa lottery in favor of a merit-based immigration system; and limiting family reunification to sponsorships for spouses and minor children only. The plan caused a stir among hardline conservatives in the House and plenty of Democrats in both chambers. But a senior House Republican aide told me at the time, “When the bill is being ripped by the Freedom Caucus and liberals, yet it includes things both camps like, I think you’ve found the sweet spot to begin negotiating.”
Those hopes were dashed on Tuesday.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of Trump’s speech came when he pledged to “protect the nuclear family” by ending chain migration. “In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by … chain migration,” he said. Democrats erupted in a cacophony of boos and hisses; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was forced to stand up from her chair to quiet them. “It showed there will be no DACA deal,” a senior Senate Republican aide texted me. (The staffers who spoke for this story made their comments on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.) Indeed, if the White House suggested tonight that ending chain migration was a nonnegotiable component of immigration reform, Democrats made clear that it’s not a price they’re willing to pay—even for a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers.” As if to underscore this point, when Trump summed up his proposal as a “down-the-middle compromise,” Democrats cackled.