WASHINGTON — Immigrant advocates denounced it as cruel. The conservative right howled that it was amnesty.
What President Donald Trump billed on Saturday as a compromise to end the country’s longest government shutdown pleased neither the Democratic congressional leaders whose buy-in he needs to strike a deal nor the core supporters whose backing has always been at the heart of his insistence on a border wall.
Instead, in offering temporary protections for about 1 million immigrants at risk of deportation in exchange for funding for a wall, Trump did something rarely seen during his presidency. He tried to reach beyond his base of supporters — which polls have begun to show is losing patience with him as the partial shutdown drags into its fifth week — and speak to a broader swath of Americans.
The Saturday afternoon speech from the West Wing was an attempt by Trump to, at the very least, shift the narrative of the past several weeks and show that rather than spoiling for a longer shutdown fight or making unreasonable demands, he was looking for a broadly acceptable way out of a morass he once boasted he was proud to wade into.
“I think you could tell by the president’s remarks today,” Vice President Mike Pence said, “that we’re reaching out.”
Yet in seeking to inch toward the center, Trump alienated portions of his hard-right base, the core supporters he most depends on and the group he and his closest aides have most feared losing. That raised the possibility that, in his zeal to get out of an intractable situation, he may have landed himself in the worst of all worlds, without a clear solution or the support of his most ardent followers.
The tensions and anger over the policy have been quietly playing out in the West Wing as well, as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, fended off Stephen Miller, the architect of much of Trump’s immigration agenda. Kushner has long been a proponent of protections for people brought to the United States without authorization as children, while Miller has pressed for aggressive measures to crack down on both legal and illegal immigration.
In recent days, as White House officials had been working out the details of the compromise, Miller intervened to narrow the universe of immigrants who would receive protection, according to people familiar with the internal discussions who described them on the condition of anonymity.
While the original idea had been to include protections for as many as 1.8 million immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program known as DACA that protected those illegally brought to the United States as children, Trump ultimately proposed shielding only the 700,000 who are enrolled.
Kushner conceded in a briefing after the president’s speech that he did not see the proposal as a solution for the DACA program, which Trump moved to rescind in 2017.
“At this moment in time,” Kushner said, “this is a good path forward.”
Many conservatives did not share that view.
“Trump proposes amnesty,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter said on Twitter.
“We voted for Trump and got Jeb!” she added, referring to Jeb Bush, who challenged Trump for the Republican nomination in 2016 and supported a broad immigration overhaul that would have given immigrants without documentation a path to legal status.
Still, in the eyes of many White House officials, the prospect that Trump could use the proposal to shift blame for the shutdown and pressure Democrats to end the impasse was worth trying. Pence argued on Saturday that the speech was a “sincere effort” by Trump to break the logjam, and he and other White House officials suggested the measure could attract enough support to succeed from centrist Democrats fed up with the shutdown and willing to side with Republicans.
But such a coalition did not appear to be forming, and courting one bears considerable risk for a president who is most comfortable when he is defying convention, eschewing compromise and being hailed as a hero by supporters who often equate bipartisan deal-making with weak-kneed capitulation.
The vast majority of Democrats knocked the approach. While many of them have pressed for measures to protect DACA recipients and immigrants living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status enacted when their countries were destabilized by war or catastrophe, most regard the proposal he put forth Saturday as woefully inadequate. It offers only three years of protections for the DACA recipients and those who hold TPS, which the Trump administration has also moved to end for several countries.
“This is not an amnesty bill,” Pence said. “There is no pathway to citizenship in this proposal.”
That was high on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s list of reasons to call the plan “unacceptable.”
That is unlikely to matter to the president. Despite saying publicly last month that he would be proud to own a shutdown over the wall, and privately displaying confidence that his base would stick with him through the fight, Trump has been dismayed to find otherwise in recent days.
An NPR poll released last week showed Trump’s approval ratings down and the first cracks in backing among critical supporters, including whites without a college education and white evangelicals.
Such pressure from what he has called the forgotten men and women who elected him and chant “Build! The! Wall!” at his arena rallies has swayed Trump before, including last year, when the conservative news site Breitbart branded him “Amnesty Don” for considering a similar deal that would have provided $25 billion in wall funding for a path to legal status for those the DACA program was created to help. The president ultimately abandoned that agreement, concerned about angering his base and after Miller and others advised him he should insist on additional immigration restrictions.
On Saturday night, Breitbart panned Trump’s latest idea with the headline “Three-Year Amnesty, Most of Border Remains Open.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.