For Republicans, ‘Gang of Eight’ Was no Grand Immigration Bargain

President Trump’s planned immigration meeting with Senate Republicans Thursday should be a doozy.

When Trump began tweeting Wednesday about the immigration reforms he would like to see in the aftermath of the latest terrorist attack in New York City, the newly liberated Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., practically heckled him in response.

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty,” Trump tweeted I want merit based.” He made similar comments at the Cabinet meeting, saying, “We want a merit-based program where people come into our country based on merit. And we want to get rid of chain migration.”

Flake rose to the Senate minority leader’s defense, citing a doomed immigration bill both he and the New York Democrat once supported.

“Actually, the Gang of 8, including [Schumer], did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms,” Flake retorted. “I know, I was there.”

Trump fired his next salvo. “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems,” he tweeted. “We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”

Then Flake returned fire. “In fact, had the Senate Gang of 8 bill passed the House, it would have ended the Visa Lottery Program AND increased merit based visas,” he shot back.

The junior senator from Arizona has acknowledged his approach to immigration has lost favor with Republican primary voters. Membership in the Gang of Eight was also the single biggest obstacle to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gaining traction in last year’s GOP presidential primaries, surpassing even his unfortunate debate exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

But an expansive immigration policy remains popular with some Republican senators, as it has been since Flake’s fellow Arizonan John McCain was working on the issue with then Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., under former President George W. Bush over a decade ago. Plenty still think this mix of mass legalization and border security should be the starting point of any immigration debate.

To say that immigration hawks simply refused to take yes for an answer is to misunderstand the debate inside GOP circles.

By W. James Antle III for WASHINGTON EXAMINER
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