Graham Says Trump Could Flip GOP Support Toward Dreamers

Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.) attend a press conference about the Dream Act of 2017 in the Capitol building on July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

If President Donald Trump wanted to get the Republican Party on board with saving so-called “Dreamers” from deportation, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he could do so “at the snap of his fingers.”

The remark to reporters came Thursday after the South Carolina Republican and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Dream Act of 2017, a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children to earn permanent resident status and possibly citizenship. “Dream” stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and refers to a bill that was first proposed in 2001, but has never been successfully passed.

Trump advocated for the elimination of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which used executive authority to protect some 780,000 people from deportation who came to the United States as children, Durbin told reporters. But the administration has repealed a similar program protecting their parents. A Trump administration official suggested the president does not support the Graham-Durbin proposal, McClatchy reported.

Speaking to Trump through the television cameras, Graham said: “You’re going to have to make a decision. The campaign is over.”

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the Graham-Durbin legislation.

Durbin, who co-sponsored the original DREAM Act, said he has sought the measure for 16 years. He and Graham believe there are people in the Trump White House who want to work with them to secure long-sought passage in Congress — even as the president has vowed to strengthen immigration laws, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and deport, in the president’s words, “bad hombres.”

“What’s changed? You have a president who, at the snap of his fingers, could get the Republican Party united,” Graham said. “What’s changed? A man in the White House who could take the people who object the most and, with a coherent, from-the-heart speech change everything.”

While a deal securing Dreamers’ legal status in the country would not be well-received by a segment of Trump’s base, Morning Consult polling data suggests the opposition may not be so widespread. An April survey showed that 73 percent of the voters who helped elect Trump in November said the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country, and almost half (48 percent) of those voters said the Dreamers should have the opportunity to become U.S. citizens if they can meet certain requirements.

Roughly a quarter (23 percent) of Trump voters said DACA recipients should be removed from the country, but Trump has also demonstrated the ability to change his supporters’ minds on certain subjects simply by changing positions.

On other policy issues Trump pushed on the campaign trail but abandoned in office — such as his campaign promises to end the Export-Import Bank, label China a currency manipulator and eliminate the Iran deal — polling found his supporters are willing to follow him. For example, when Trump voters learned of his support for reauthorizing Ex-Im, which provides loans to promote U.S. exports, the share of support from those voters increased from 42 percent to 66 percent.

Durbin said there is renewed urgency for the legislation with the administration cracking down on illegal immigration. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has pledged to enforce the laws on the books and railed against lawmakers who have criticized him rather than legislating the issue.

“We don’t believe that young people should be held responsible for the errors or illegal actions of their parents,” Durbin said. “We need the Dream Act now, more than ever, because of the uncertainty these young people face.”

Cameron Easley contributed.

Morning Consult