Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., left, and President Donald Trump, makes an announcement on the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in the White House on Aug. 2, 2017. (Photo by Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)
Photo: Pool
Photo: Pool

David Perdue looks to Democrats while selling immigration bill

Facing a wall of opposition to his signature immigration proposal, Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue is looking ahead to a possible Plan B: cutting a deal with Democrats and others to try to salvage the White House-backed plan.

The first-term Republican told local reporters at Friday roundtable that “everything is on the table” when it comes to getting his overhaul of the legal immigration system into law.

Perdue’s proposal is considered divisive even among some Republicans. It seeks to scale back the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. each year while focusing on admitting more high-skilled foreigners rather than the extended family of migrants already here. It would halve the number of refugees allowed in annually and freeze the number of employment-based green cards at roughly 140,000, while prioritizing immigrants who are experts in their fields and are fluent in English.

“People talk about compromise. I talk about compromise. Well, compromise comes before negotiation,” Perdue said. “You’ve got to be willing to give up something for what you want to get. If we end up with the Democrats getting 80 percent satisfied solution, and we end up with 80 percent satisfactory result, we ought to get this done.”

Whether Democrats are willing to negotiate with him is another story.

Top GOP leaders in Congress have kept conspicuously quiet about Perdue’s proposal, known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or RAISE Act, since it was rolled out at the White House earlier this month.

They’ve instead laid out plans for a busy fall that seemingly includes everything but an immigration overhaul: hammering out a government spending deal, raising the debt ceiling, beginning work on tax legislation and advancing defense and veterans policy bills.

If Congress takes up any immigration fight in the months ahead, it will almost certainly be over funding for a border wall. President Donald Trump has insisted that seed money be included in next month’s must-pass spending bill, setting up the prospect of a shutdown showdown with Democrats.

Many Democrats have dismissed Perdue’s RAISE Act outright, as have a handful of Republicans who previously backed a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Other GOP lawmakers who previously supported moving to a more merit-based immigration system worried the bill would be too restrictive for the U.S. businesses that rely on immigrant workers.

“We need to make sure we are responsive to the needs of our economy and I’m concerned that drastic cuts to the number of immigrants fails to meet that goal,” said Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who is up for re-election next year.

Johnny Isakson, Perdue’s Georgia colleague, hedged when asked about the RAISE Act at a town hall earlier this month.

“When I get to the point of making that decision I possibly could,” Isakson said of supporting the bill, after being pressed by reporters, “but I reserve the right not to. I’m just not at that point yet.”

Perdue said he’s committed to a step-by-step approach to sell the plan, even as reports swirl that Trump’s top aides are pushing the president to continue protections for people brought into the country illegally as children – known as DREAMers – in a broader immigration compromise that also includes money for a border wall and more federal detention facilities.

Top Democrats have dismissed the prospect that they would be willing to accept such a compromise.

“This is a nonstarter,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “The DREAM Act is bipartisan — the administration’s immigration wish list sharply divides the GOP. That’s no kind of deal.”

As for Perdue, he said he is still working with Trump to build support for the plan.

“We’re moving behind the scenes to try to engage in some of those conversations,” he added. “And we’ll see. Hey, never up, never in. If you don’t try – people want us to work together up there, but it takes two people to play. We’ll see if we can get people to play.”

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