David Perdue looks to pull Trump to the right in latest immigration fight

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., during a news conference in Washington, D.C., in November 2017 (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., during a news conference in Washington, D.C., in November 2017 (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Eyeing an unofficial Jan. 19 deadline, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is looking to cut an immigration deal that would shield young undocumented people from deportation while passing muster with President Donald Trump.

Georgia’s U.S. Sen. David Perdue sees his role a bit differently.

The freshman Republican is not among the six senators who said they struck an interim deal on so-called Dreamers yesterday. Instead, the staunch Trump ally and immigration hawk was at the White House yesterday and Tuesday, urging the president to stick to conservative principles before signing off on any deal giving status to undocumented people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

"I was invited to the White House to stand firm with President Trump today," Perdue said in a Senate floor speech yesterday, hours before news broke that Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries." A Perdue spokeswoman said the senator "did not recall" the president making those comments.

One of Perdue’s top priorities is putting an end to so-called chain migration, the process by which U.S. citizens and permanent residents can sponsor relatives to migrate to America.

It's a topic of great urgency to conservatives and a core tenet of a bill Perdue introduced last year that won the backing of Trump. He eventually wants the U.S. to reconfigure its legal immigration system to be focused more on merit and the country's economic needs rather than family, but that's not a part of the current White House-congressional discussions.

“Future immigrants are determined by current immigrants, without any regard to their ability to participate in the system,” Perdue said yesterday of the country’s immigration system.

After a White House meeting with Perdue and other immigration-focused senators on Tuesday, Trump short-listed chain migration as a requirement for any final deal on Dreamers, as well as ending a divisive visa diversity lottery program and beefing up border security.

Perdue told reporters on Thursday that he sees his role as making sure that any final agreement checks off those boxes. He criticized his colleagues’ initial immigration proposal as not going far enough, particularly on chain migration.

His comments came after a White House meeting with Trump and other senators but before word leaked that the president compared several countries to primitive latrines. A Perdue spokeswoman said Friday that the senator "does not recall the President saying that and the President addressed this himself this morning."

"What the President did call out was the imbalance in our current legal immigration system that does not protect American workers and our national interest," the spokeswoman said.

In a tweet on Friday, Trump acknowledged he used “tough” language but denied the “shithole” comment. He agreed with Perdue that the initial immigration deal presented by senators was inadequate.

But Perdue on Thursday was optimistic about the direction of talks.

“We know we have to have a bill that the House can pass, but we also have to have one that we can pass here in the Senate,” Perdue told reporters. “I’m very encouraged by the continuing movement in the right direction to get this thing done.”

His comments came as Georgia Democrats urged him to condemn Trump’s recent immigration remarks.

“Perdue was sent to the U.S. Senate to represent and stand for all Georgians, not to serve as Trump’s bootlicker,” said DuBose Porter, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Trump has set a March 5 deadline for Congress to resolve the Dreamer issue, but Democrats are looking to pressure Republicans into a deal by tying the talks to a must-act government funding deadline next week.

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