House and Senate negotiators left a Thursday White House meeting no closer to an agreement on immigration, despite claims by Sen. Jeff Flake that an agreement was imminent.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., rejected the offer by Flake, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and three others.
“It’s not even a fig leaf, it’s a pine needle,” Cotton said, adding that the deal is “a joke.”
The offer included money for a border wall but it was “far below” the $18 billion the Trump administration proposed earlier this week, he said. And the changes to chain migration and the diversity visa lottery were insufficient, he added.
Graham called it a “bipartisan proposal” that he hopes can lead to “a breakthrough” on passing legislation.
But GOP leaders downplayed the proposal and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested it has hindered an accord because the vast majority of senators were kept in the dark on the proposal.
“What has slowed it down right now is the attempt to try to get a subgroup of senators to say what they’ve agreed to and then say this is the deal and get the president to sign off on it," Cornyn said.
Cornyn spoke with Trump after the meeting.
“I think what the president told them [is] it’s fine for them to negotiate what they think is a reasonable proposal, but what they need to do is share that with others,” Cornyn said. “It’s not going to be done by just a subgroup.”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a GOP leader, said he believes a vote on legislation may not be possible in January and may slip to February.
He said the Flake deal may possibly be part of a larger deal, however, since it represents the first tentative agreement between any Democrats and Republicans on the matter.
“It has to be something the president will ultimately sign,” Thune said. “It sounds to me like they have a ways to go on that.”
Marc Short, the White House liaison to Congress, said lawmakers staff will meet again at the White House to discuss negotiations.
“I still think there is a ways to go,” Short said.
Democrats and Republicans are far apart on almost all aspects of reform. For example, President Trump wants to make changes to chain migration more broadly than only the relatives of the so-called Dreamers, Short said. Democrats are opposed to curbing it at all.
Cotton said the Flake proposal did not make sufficient changes to the practice. "It's a joke of a proposal," he said.
Cotton wants chain migration limited to spouses and minor children.
“Not for parents, not for adult kids, not for married kids,” Cotton said.
Graham bristled at those comments, and said at least the small group has what could be the start of an agreement.
"Let me know when Sen. Cotton has a proposal that gets a Democrat — I'm dying to look at it," he said.
"The president challenged those in the room to come up with a product, I think he was pleased that we did," Graham added. "Nobody reached a deal in the meeting but we did answer the president's call, 'give me something.'"