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White House Call on Immigration Plan Gets Personal, Testy

Bipartisan compromise ‘spectacularly poorly drafted,’ official says

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer teamed up to help the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer teamed up to help the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo) (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House is “alarmed” by a bipartisan immigration measure offered by nearly 20 Republican and Democratic senators, a senior administration official said during a testy midday briefing.

The measure is “totally and completely unserious,” the official said during a conference call that would only be attributed to senior officials despite their sharp critiques, by name, of sitting U.S. senators. Other terms and words this official used: “dead on arrival,” “reckless,” and “spectacularly poorly drafted.”

The senior official accused the measure’s authors with trying to push through an overhaul bill that would take a “backwards” step on immigration enforcement, while also allowing one million individuals into the United States illegally on top of the existing flow of immigrants.

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The White House is “officially asking” senators who signed on to the bipartisan compromise to withdraw their support of the measure, which the senior official called a “catastrophically drafted amendment.” The official also said the administration hopes senators signed on without having fully understood its contents.

Watch: Senate Leaders Open Immigration Debate With Dispute Over How to Start

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The midday conference call with reporters at several points grew personal.

One of the senior officials lashed out at the measure’s co-sponsors, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whom he described as long being “an obstacle” in the Senate preventing a deal on immigration and “an obstacle” when it comes to trying to protect the so-called Dreamers, the nearly 690,000 undocumented individuals brought here by their parents.

A second official stopped a press aide who was ending the call minutes later to say he had been shown a tweet quoting an unnamed senator asking “who the hell wrote” a DHS document circulated earlier Thursday slamming the bipartisan immigration compromise. This official said he wished to respond directly to that senator, saying the memo was crafted by “a group” of DHS employees who “care deeply” about protecting the United States.

At some point, the senior official said one must ask if Graham is trying to be part of a “solution” or if “his presence” is preventing one.

A White House press aide who administered the call declined several requests from reporters on the call to make the entire thing — or at least the attacks on senators — attributable to the officials using their names and titles.

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Another senior administration official acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide on the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s ability to extend his own March 5 deadline for termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

But shy of that ruling, this senior official reiterated the stance of senior Department of Homeland Security officials and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that Trump lacks the legal authority to do so. But the president — backed by legal experts — believes the office of the president does have the power to change a self-created deadline made via executive order.

The White House continues to only support a measure offered by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa in that chamber and another by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte in the lower chamber.

Trump aides say only those two measures, of ones introduced so far, reflect the four principles that must be addressed in any final measure for the president to sign it: full funding for a southern border wall trust fund; a DACA fix; ending the Diversity Visa Lottery program; and limiting so-called “chain migration” to spouses and minor children.

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