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Why Donald Trump’s State of the Union moved Congress no closer to a deal on immigration
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the House of Representatives Chamber after delivering his first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress. Pete Marovich/Getty Images

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Wednesday’s dispatch: An immigration deal is far, far away

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union was many things. But through optics and in interviews, Democrats indicated that the key message of the speech — a pitch to reform America’s immigration system — was neither unifying nor likely to succeed.

Top Democrats and moderate Republicans said Trump’s speech was targeted at sowing division between liberals and conservatives. Trump outlined four pillars of the immigration plan the White House released Thursday. Far from being the “bipartisan” address the White House advertised in advance, Trump doubled down on policies that kept Democrats in their seats as conservatives clapped — and even troubled some Republicans.

Trump said any immigration deal must end “chain migration” — a term Democrats described in interviews as slanderous of “family reunification.” This is the idea that someone can immigrate to the United States and eventually bring their close family as well. Current law allows for that, though it is difficult to bring people other than spouses and children to the United States. Each new immigrant sponsors an average of 3.45 people, according to a 2013 study, a number driven by visa holders who are more likely to become citizens.

Trump also demanded funding for his proposed border wall, and promised to offer a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. That is more than the pathway for citizenship the Dream Act would provide to nearly 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“He continues to take more and more hostages,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), a member of Democratic House leadership, said in an interview. “Expanding it from 800,000 ‘Dreamers’ to 1.8 million ‘Dreamers.’ ... It’s time to end hostage taking and start negotiating on a real, comprehensive bill.”

Those nearly 800,000 DACA recipients are at risk of losing their legal status to live and work in the U.S. because Trump gave Congress until March 5 to address the program created by former President Barack Obama. There are specific eligibility requirements for undocumented people seeking DACA status, including having come to the U.S. before age 16, and either being in school or having a high school diploma, GED or honorable discharge from the armed forces or Coast Guard.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, was one of the first to exit Trump’s address. Senate Democrats are the key constituency Trump needs to convince to accept an immigration deal, given their legislative power to force a government shutdown — as they did on Jan. 19. Durbin and Trump had not spoken since the senator had a meeting about immigration with the president, where Trump referred to African and Caribbean nations as “shithole countries.”

“The things he said were divisive, inflammatory,” Durbin said in an interview after Tuesday’s address. “One part of the speech, he’s exulting faith and family. Then when it comes to the immigrants of this country, he takes exactly the opposite approach.”

The focus on reforming how and whether families immigrate to the U.S. has only emerged from the White House in the past couple months. While the subject angers Democrats, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) made clear in an interview that the issue “is going to have to be dealt with.”

“He’s the president,” Cornyn said. “You’re not going to pass a bill or get it signed into law without his signature.”

Trump introduced the immigration portion of his speech by controversially saying “Americans are dreamers too.” That line was quickly trumpeted with approval by white nationalists like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. But Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a noted Trump critic who is retiring in 2018, said that line did Trump no favors.

“That certainly played to some of the base, but we’ve got to get 60 votes — more than 60 votes if we’re going to get it past the House and the Senate,” Flake said in an interview. “Particularly when he referred to those coming across, including the ‘Dreamers,’ as illegal aliens — you could feel the groans coming across.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), perhaps the leading campaigner for DACA recipients on Capitol Hill, said in a statement his hope of a deal to protect them from deportation is dead. “I was hoping to get through my life without having to witness an outwardly, explicitly racist American president, but my luck ran out,” Gutierrez said.

Trump said Congress would take a vote on a comprehensive immigration bill in the next few weeks. The government will run out of funding next week without another spending deal. And DACA expires in less than six weeks, on March 5.

Today’s question: Can Congress reach a deal on immigration by next week?

Please email us at trumpsamerica@mic.com with your thoughts.

Wednesday in Trump’s America:

More SOTU coverage: The State of the Union rarely changes how the public views a president. That is not expected to change after Tuesday, especially given how Trump played to his base.

In 2016, pundits called Trump’s first address to Congress “presidential.” This year, they said his tone did not live up to promises of unity and bipartisanship.

Republicans and Democrats are skeptical that a $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment — which Trump proposed in his speech, raising the bar from $1 trillion — is possible.

A surprising highlight: Trump called on Congress to let his Cabinet secretaries fire federal employees “who undermine the public trust or fail the American people” — a vague charge that some interpreted as Trump saying he wants to be able to remove those seeking to hold him accountable.

Politico reviewed why it is unlikely any of the major policy proposals Trump outlined will come to pass this year.

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) delivered a well-received response to Trump’s address, channeling the anger and energy of Trump’s opponents. A total of eight rebuttals from current and former Democratic legislators will come over the next day.

CNN fact-checked Trump’s claims about the economy, ISIS, judges, immigration and energy.

Hillary Clinton: The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee addressed a report that she did not remove a leader of her 2008 campaign who sexually harassed female staff members. Clinton apologized.

The memo: Trump reportedly said Tuesday that he wants a House memo, assembled by Republicans, to be released that will allege anti-Trump bias at the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice. Democrats say the memo is unsubstantiated, and undermines America’s law enforcement institutions.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, would not say Tuesday whether he coordinated with the White House in his push on Monday to release the document publicly.

Questionable buy: Brenda Fitzgerald, Trump’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, purchased shares of a large tobacco company a month into her leadership of the CDC. Her agency is tasked with reducing smoking.

DNC vs. RNC: The Democratic National Committee raised less than half of what the Republican National Committee raised in 2017. The DNC’s CEO announced Monday she soon plans to resign.

Today’s MicBite:

Mic and Walmart explore what it was like for people in Puerto Rico to not be able to contact their families for week. Click or tap below to watch.

Correction: Jan. 31, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated DACA eligibility requirements. There are specific eligibility requirements for undocumented people seeking DACA status, including having come to the U.S. before age 16, and either being in school or having a high school diploma, GED or honorable discharge from the armed forces or Coast Guard. This article also previously incorrectly noted the sponsor for the MicBite video. It is Walmart.