President Trump may have a chance to break the legislative logjam behind healthcare with a victory on one of his signature issues: immigration.
Buried in a sea of tweets, Trump notched a rare bipartisan win in the House when 24 Democrats crossed over last week to support Kate's Law, a bill toughening penalties for criminals who illegally enter the United States multiple times.
The legislation was named after Kate Steinle, a young woman murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times. Now both it and another bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., cutting off certain federal grants to sanctuary cities — local governments that don't fully cooperate with immigration enforcement — head to the Senate.
Trump highlighted both bills in his pre-Fourth of July weekly radio address, calling on "members of both parties to stand united with victims to stop these terrible and senseless crimes from ever happening in the first place" and implicitly challenging red-state Democratic senators who might be tempted to join in a filibuster of either one.
"This legislation presents a simple choice: Either vote to save and protect American lives, or vote to shield and comfort criminal aliens who threaten innocent lives — and they've been shielded too long," Trump said.
That would make for a tough campaign ad against any of the ten Democratic senators running for re-election in 2018 in states Trump carried last year. The president needs eight of them to break any attempted filibuster, assuming no Republican defections.
Perhaps mindful of this, House Democratic leaders didn't whip hard against Kate's Law. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., initially told reporters he was "advising members to look at it carefully and see what their conclusion is."
Democratic leaders took a stronger stance against the crackdown on sanctuary cities, losing only three of their members. Seven Republicans voted against that bill. Both bills are nevertheless wedge issues that could be used either to fracture the Democratic caucus or give fodder to Republican challengers next year.
At the very least, the pair of bills could force Democrats to take a tough vote ahead of the midterm elections. They are also an opportunity for Republicans to put some legislative wins on the board.
It won't be easy, however. Senate Republicans are currently preoccupied by healthcare after failing to come together on a leadership-backed plan to partially repeal and replace Obamacare. The party has struggled to come up with an Obamacare alternative that unites both its centrist and conservative wings.
Despite running prominently on immigration during the presidential campaign, Trump himself has had trouble staying focused. Even as Trump met at the White House with "American families whose loved ones were killed by illegal immigrants," as he put it in his weekly radio address, his administration dubbed it "Energy Week."
"You lost the people that you love because our government refused to enforce our nation's immigration laws," Trump said at the event, where he rallied the House to pass the two immigration bills. "And that's even the existing immigration laws, without new laws. That's existing immigration laws."
Trump did lead his radio address recounting the meeting and talked about the two immigration bills throughout. But it will take more to get them through a narrowly Republican Senate, and some of the immigration activists who supported the president during the campaign are losing patience.
As Trump met with the family members of those slain by undocumented immigrants, some 60 radio hosts and activists gathered down the street for a Hold Their Feet to the Fire event demanding Trump deliver on immigration. "I will say that a lot of them feel that Trump made a lot of promises throughout his campaign regarding immigration and haven't seen much action in those areas," said an event organizer.
Trump has promoted stricter immigration enforcement, expanding the number of illegal immigrants inside the United States who are at risk of deportation. Many an Independence Day editorial cartoon will contrast the president's rhetoric with the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
Even without building the wall or signing new legislation, the United States Customs and Border Protection reports a more than 60 percent drop in illegal immigrants stopped or caught along the Southwest border from February to May under Trump as compared with the same period last year.
Shifting to immigration would please some of the hardline Trump supporters who believe the president won because he wasn't a conventional Republican. While the president remains deeply unconventional in his approach to Twitter and fighting with the media, which these supporters appreciate, he has often deferred to Republican congressional leaders on not just the timing of legislative priorities like healthcare and tax reform but the substance of the bills themselves.
On healthcare in particular, Trump has publicly supported whatever legislation House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have believed they can pass despite privately expressing misgivings about a lack of "heart" in Republican Obamacare replacement proposals.
A surge in working-class white support in several key battleground states that hadn't voted Republican at the presidential level since the 1980s delivered Trump a majority in the Electoral College despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's narrow popular vote edge.
Veteran conservative columnist Ann Coulter, author of the election-year book In Trump We Trust and a writer increasingly focused on immigration, has been arguing Trump has been too similar to a hypothetical President Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio since before the inauguration.
"Maybe the White House needs an ‘immigration week,'" said a D.C.-based Republican strategist.