Blame game over stalled DACA deal escalates as shutdown looms

Updated January 16, 2018 - 8:11 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders on Tuesday escalated their mutual blame game over the failure to reach a DACA compromise, raising the odds that the continuing war of scatological words could lead to a government shutdown at midnight Friday.

At one point during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been working with Democrats to pass a compromise spending bill, lamented that the debate has been sidetracked since Trump reportedly called Haiti and African nations “s—-hole” countries during a White House meeting on immigration last week. It’s become a real “s—-show,” he said, without pronouncing the “s” word.

At the same hearing, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Pat Leahy, D-Vt., grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over whether Trump used “profanity” or the “vulgar” word during the contentious meeting. (Trump has denied using the term.)

‘General profanity’

Nielsen testified she did not hear Trump say that particular swear word, but did say she heard “general profanity used in the room by almost everyone.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in particular, lit into Nielsen, saying Trump’s reported comment left him “frankly seething with anger.”

Booker, who is black, seemed incredulous that Nielsen could not recall hearing Trump use the word he reportedly uttered. He recited acts of violence committed by white supremacists, including last year’s automobile killing of an activist by a white nationalist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nine victims shot dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

He then berated what he called Nielsen’s silence and amnesia and declared, “You’re a threat to this country.”


Nielsen responded that she too abhors racial violence and said her department targets violent white supremacists.

The who-said-what debate deflected attention from the core issue that Democrats say they want in exchange for passage of a spending bill: a deal to protect participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

DACA ruling to Supreme Court

After conservatives questioned why the Department of Justice did not appeal a federal judge’s ruling last week that Trump could not cancel former President Barack Obama’s 2012 DACA policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It defies both law and common sense for DACA — an entirely discretionary non-enforcement policy that was implemented unilaterally by the last administration after Congress rejected similar legislative proposals and courts invalidated the similar DAPA policy — to somehow be mandated nationwide by a single district court in San Francisco,” Sessions said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the White House released a report by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice that concluded that three out of every four individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges were foreign born.

According to the report, 549 individuals have been convicted in federal courts on international terrorism-related charges from Sept. 11, 2001, through 2016, 254 were not U.S. citizens, while 148 were naturalized. Also, 1,716 foreign-born aliens with national security concerns were removed from the United States.

Terrorism report draws fire

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on background said that the release of the report, which was supposed to be done in the fall, was “overdue” and that its timing in the midst of the heated debate over DACA was “merely coincidental.”

Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American Islamic Relations argued that the report is more evidence that everything from this White House “has to be viewed through the prism of racism and white supremacy, and I don’t think this is any different.” The fact that the report collected information on international terrorism but not domestic terrorism, he argued, reinforced his opinion.

The Department of Justice responded that the executive order that prompted the report specifically concerned “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

Press secretary Sarah Sanders noted in a statement that the report “does not contain information regarding the number of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses committed by individuals who are the children of foreign-born individuals.” It cited two examples: Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida, and Syed Rizwan Farook who killed 14 in San Bernardino, California.

Officials did not respond when asked whether the White House wants to begin collecting such data.

Graham plays peacemaker

In the midst of the swirling immigration controversy, Graham has continued to try to play peacemaker. He has maintained that Trump could succeed in getting a comprehensive bipartisan reform passed where former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush tried but failed.

“You have created an opportunity in here, Mr. President, and you need to close the deal,” Graham said at the White House meeting last week at which Trump had said he would sign what Congress passed and that it would be a “bill of love.”

The problem, noted Chris Chmielenski of Numbers USA, which wants to reduce legal and illegal immigration, is that the Graham-Durbin bill didn’t give Republicans enough of what they want. Worse, he said, it expanded the pool of undocumented immigrants eligible for legal status.

“Between (outgoing GOP Arizona Sen. Jeff) Flake, Graham and Durbin, maybe it was a great deal, but I don’t see a whole lot of Republicans jumping on board that,” Chmielenski said.

Before Friday though, he expects Congress to pass a bill to put off spending and immigration lawmaking until later. A shutdown would be averted and lawmakers would have more time to pass a measure that is never going to come easily.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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