Washington Examiner – Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she is trying to get in touch with Rep. Ilhan Omar to discuss her latest attention-getting tweet about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that has drawn new backlash to the freshman Minnesota Democrat.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with her,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday when asked about Omar’s tweet, which has attracted strong criticism. “We tried to reach her, she was in transit.”

Pelosi said she wants to speak to Omar about her tweet questioning then-President George W. Bush’s New York City address to rescue workers at Ground Zero, days after the worst terror attack in American history, in which he declared “The people who knocked down there towers will hear all of us soon.”

Omar tweeted “Was Bush downplaying the terrorist attack? What if he was a Muslim,” under the Bush quote delivered at Ground Zero.

The tweet quickly drew criticism and came just a day after Omar was the subject of a New York Post cover depicting the flaming twin towers and the lawmaker’s comments before a Muslim advocacy group that “some people did something,” on Sept. 11, 2001. The commentwas widely seen as downplaying the significant and horror of a tragedy that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Omar claimed in the aftermoth of 9/11 Muslim civil liberties had suffered.

Pelosi has yet to comment on Omar’s recent comments and tweets, but plans to respond at some point, she said.

“As is my custom with my colleagues, I call them in before I call them out,” Pelosi said. “I’ll have some comment after I do speak to her.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week they are both ready to sit down together to try to work out a long-elusive deal on immigration reform in response to a growing humanitarian crisis along the southern border.

Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking to reporters at the Democratic retreat in Leesburg, Va., said she is “pleased to see” news reports that McConnell, R-Ky., “is ready to talk about” about an immigration deal.

McConnell told reporters on Thursday it is “past time” to negotiate with Democrats on immigration and he is willing to talk to Pelosi about it “now.”

While lawmakers normally avoid taking up major policy initiatives when a presidential election is looming, they may have no choice.

A sudden surge in family units attempting to cross into the United States illegally has overwhelmed the nation’s border security system.

So far this year, 240,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended entering the United States, some at ports of entry, but mostly at points in between along the southwest border.

The increase accelerated after July 2015, when a federal judge ruled that illegal immigrant parents must be released with children soon after they are apprehended.

The court ruling attracted mass family migration from Central America as adults learned bringing children to the U.S. border would prevent them from being detained or immediately sent home.

Even Pelosi acknowledged Friday it has created “a humanitarian crisis.”

The GOP wants to change the nation’s asylum laws and rules governing the treatment of apprehended illegal immigrants in order to discourage the recent wave of mass migration from Central America.

Finding a bipartisan deal with Democrats, however, would likely require a comprehensive plan that addresses illegal immigrants already living in the United States.

While McConnell did not specify what should be included in a deal, Pelosi said “what we need to do is sit down and have comprehensive immigration reform.”

She added, “I’m glad Mitch McConnell has said he’s willing to do that.”

Democrats and Republicans have tried but failed to pass immigration reform legislation numerous times over the past 15 years.

Democrats want a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, while Republicans have sought stronger border security provisions.

Pelosi said none of the current problems along the border can be fixed without tackling comprehensive immigration reform.

“I think the president is beginning to realize that has to happen,” Pelosi said.

Considering her qualified apologies following repeated statements in evidence of such a viewpoint, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is likely anti-Semitic.

But I do not believe she is being judged fairly for her recent remarks on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As the video below shows, Omar told a gathering of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that CAIR was founded after the terrorist attacks “because [CAIR] recognized some people did something and all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Many observers are now criticizing Omar. They say her words diminish the 2,977 victims who died on 9/11, and the significance of that day in American history. But I suspect Omar’s intent was not malicious or derisory. Rather, I believe Omar was attempting to draw divergence between her Islamic faith and the al Qaeda fanatics who carried out the 9/11 attacks. When she says that “some people” did it, she meant “some people who are not us” or “not like us,” referring to herself and peaceful, mainstream adherents of Islam in the U.S.

Yes, Omar’s words were poorly chosen. And as my colleague Tiana Lowe aptly observes, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is utterly wrong to support Omar by challenging the patriotism of Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. Crenshaw is a combat veteran of the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq. He has done a lot more to serve this nation than AOC, Omar, and just about every other member of Congress for that matter.

But I do not believe Omar’s words were designed to deride our fallen fellow citizens. The freshman congresswoman was drawing a positive application of “otherness” with regards to the ideological separation between American Muslims and al Qaeda. While it is true that al Qaeda are Islamic fanatics, it is also understandable why Omar would be frustrated at the damage that the 9/11 attacks did to American perceptions of her faith.

Many Muslims also died on 9/11, and that the vast majority of American Muslims are decent patriots. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that was her key point: al Qaeda are not us, and their evil should not be used to collectively punish Muslims. You don’t have to approve of CAIR or Omar to appreciate the legitimacy of this idea.

[Related: New York Post cover hits back at Ilhan Omar for 9/11 remarks: ‘Here’s your something’]

While so-called “Medicare for all” is grabbing the most headlines, a House Ways and Means subcommittee has held four separate hearings on the looming insolvency of another big entitlement program: Social Security. Subcommittee Chairman John Larson, D-Conn., recently released a bill to shore up Social Security’s funding through myriad new tax increases and 200 of his Democratic colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors.

I testified on Wednesday at a hearing where this bill, the Social Security 2100 Act, was the focus. I was invited to offer some remarks on a group that does not get much attention in the conversation regarding Social Security: young people. My comments focused mostly on millennials, because that is the group for which we have data on their working lives, but the broader consequences to the future of the workforce should be explored before plans to hike taxes on workers and employees is viewed as the silver bullet for the program’s sustainability.

The bill would hike the payroll tax 2.4 percentage points, to 14.8%. While almost half of workers do not pay income tax, the payroll tax is the largest tax most workers pay. Increasing it confiscates wealth for workers that could otherwise be used to save and build equity.

This strikes workers at the beginning of their career particularly hard, not just because it deprives them of a longer window for savings, but also because millennial workers are different from other generations in significant ways. For one, they are more likely to start their own business. Over a third of millennials operate a “side hustle” in addition to their full-time job. This means many young people in the workforce today are not only employees, but potential employers as well. But as a sole proprietor, they would be responsible for both the employer and employee sides of the payroll tax hike in these plans, potentially increasing their payroll taxes by thousands of dollars.

The consequences to economic mobility should be obvious: A payroll tax hike makes each hire for an employer more expensive, and data shows that employers will respond by cutting wages. This will diminish income mobility for workers, particularly those at the beginning of their careers. It will put wage increases further out of reach for workers. What’s more, the income exemptions in this bill are not indexed to inflation, meaning they eat up a larger share of employee income over time. This will further erode young people’s earnings opportunities as they move up the income ladder.

Millennials already lag other generations in terms of wealth accumulation. Workers at the beginning of their careers see a higher share of their income go to payroll taxes, and fixed costs of living take up a higher share of their take-home pay. Increasing the payroll tax further diminishes the amount of money they have available to save and create wealth over time, and exacerbates this disparity between what is now the largest living generation in the country and other generations that have come before it. What’s more, data indicates that lower-income households make up for the loss of income by shouldering more debt, undermining opportunity for young workers to amass their own wealth.

The workforce today looks different than the workforce of different generations — this is a feature, not a flaw, of the American system. As our economy evolves, however, so too must our public policy. For many millennials who entered the workforce during the recession, the recent economic expansion has been their first opportunity to grow in their careers and build wealth. Proposals that would force this cohort to shoulder new tax burdens threaten to undermine this progress. While Congress has enhanced private savings opportunities to the widespread benefit of workers, it has yet to tackle the looming fiscal insecurity of government spending. Congress should consider bipartisan methods of meeting this challenge without simply redistributing the burden to future generations.

Mattie Duppler (@MDuppler) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is the senior fellow for fiscal policy at the National Taxpayers Union. She’s also president of Forward Strategies, a strategic consulting firm.

The last time a Democrat won an open Senate seat in Arizona, he was helped along by a GOP candidate who never recovered from a campaign misstep in which he “shot a burro in the ass,” as the winning candidate’s campaign manager memorably put it recently. That candidate, Dennis DeConcini, was last elected in 1988. He retired after that term.

So how will liberal activists reward Kyrsten Sinema for becoming the first Democratic senator from Arizona since DeConcini? If Fight for the Future, a net neutrality pressure group, has its way, thanks will come in the form of a giant billboard “at one of the busiest intersections in Phoenix” calling Sinema “corrupt” and in the pocket of “corporate donors.” Her infraction is to be the only Democrat not to sign on to a net neutrality bill and instead to work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan bill that stands a chance of passing.

In this political climate, bipartisan cooperation is an unforgivable sin, and Sinema is repeatedly guilty of it.

Arizona has a new maverick.

Sinema, 42, has a compelling personal story that’s unique in one way: It informs her centrism, rather than serving as a platform for radicalism. By the time Sinema was 5, her middle-class Tuscon family was fracturing, her father mired in debt. He and her mother divorced, and Sinema was put into poverty. For a time, her Florida home was an old, remodeled gas station. “She’s a survivor,” former Democratic caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said in 2015. “I think she’s smart about how she does it. I think a lot of people underestimate her.” The comment rings prophetic; in 2018, Crowley lost his own reelection bid against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the phenom freshman. In the same year, Sinema turned one of Arizona’s Senate seats blue for the first time in three decades.

[ Related: Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally have one thing they agree on: They hate each other]

During that winning campaign, she emphasized her credibility as a independent Democrat rather than a party hack. Asked by an Arizona radio station if she considered herself a “proud Democrat,” she responded: “Gosh, it’s hard to say proud. I don’t know that — I’m not sure that people are even proud of parties anymore, because I feel like the parties are not doing a good job. So I would say that I’m a proud Arizonan. That’s something I’m very proud of. And I’m proud of the work that I have done in Washington, D.C., and the work I’ve done in the state Senate and the statehouse before going to Congress. But I’m not particularly proud of the parties.”

Sinema was, according to the Arizona Republic, one of two members of the state’s Democratic House delegation who “sided with President Donald Trump’s agenda more in the past three months than most Republicans in the state’s House delegation.” But those three months weren’t much of an outlier for Sinema. In 2015, she opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. She didn’t buy into the aggressive selling point that the only alternative to it was war. “I think it’s hyperbole and I think it’s not necessarily true,” Sinema told the Huffington Post. “It’s possible that if the deal didn’t go through, war could be one option and it could become more likely. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have options in front of us. I’m frustrated by these false dichotomies.”

Sinema also is a dissenter from left-wing orthodoxy on big banks. When, as senator-elect, she was given a spot on the Senate Banking Committee, the Washington Examiner wrote, “Sinema was long a friend of big banks in the House, and the committee appointment represents the return on a well-made investment. … During her Senate race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally, Sinema was in the top 20 of recipients of campaign contributions from both the banking and the finance sectors.Washington Examiner Commentary Editor Timothy P. Carney explained: “Sinema fought for the realtors and against Arizona’s taxpayers (disdain for whom she has repeatedly shown). Those efforts may explain why the realtors have spent $34,000 on ads supporting her Senate bid — the most they’ve spent on any Senate race this fall. In the House, one of Sinema’s core crusades was saving and expanding the Export-Import Bank. … Ex-Im is a corporate welfare agency that extends taxpayer-backed financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.”

[ Also read: Sinema forging paid leave plan deal with GOP]

And then there’s the issue that’s always a touchstone for Arizonans, immigration. In the House, Sinema had voted for legislation that would impose stiffer penalties on undocumented immigrants who reenter after being deported, as well as forcing immigrants who seek a healthcare tax credit to verify their status with the government first. Sinema took a harder line on asylum-seekers and, in October, backed Trump’s call to station more military personnel on the border with Mexico.

One advantage, according to Democratic campaign strategist Brad Todd, is that “she has been everything from a socialist anti-war protester to a vote against Nancy Pelosi, depending on what advanced her most in the moment.” Todd told the Washington Examiner that this worked especially well in 2018 because “Arizona’s Democratic talent bench was short and its base desperate for victory.”

Her Senate victory over McSally, who was later appointed to fill the seat of the original “maverick,” the late Republican Sen. John McCain, seemed only to reinforce her independent streak. In addition to her net neutrality sacrilege, Sinema is joining Republican colleagues to address paid family leave. According to Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is leading the effort, Sinema was the first to cross the aisle on it, making it “the first bill that is bipartisan” on the issue. The plan, Cassidy told the Washington Examiner in early April, is likely to involve Social Security, perhaps allowing people to take benefits earlier to pay for family leave in return for delaying retirement.

Sinema signed on to an effort led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to get the Commerce Department to release a classified report on auto tariffs and national security. She took heat from pro-abortion groups for supporting one of Trump’s judges, Arizona District Court nominee Michael Liburdi, in February. She was also one of only three Democrats to back the confirmation of Attorney General William Barr. She defended her vote in a statement: “As Arizona’s senior Senator, I will evaluate every presidential nominee based on whether he or she is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of his or her agency, and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law as it exists. After meeting with Mr. Barr and thoughtfully considering his nomination, I believe Mr. Barr meets this criteria.”

Perhaps most significant, however, was Sinema’s reaction to the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Omar is one of the members of the “Squad,” most notably the freshman trio of Omar, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ocasio-Cortez, who has turned her social media fame and grassroots devotion into an ability to set congressional Democrats’ priorities. An example is her climate boondoggle, the Green New Deal. It’s opposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but that didn’t stop Democratic presidential hopefuls from signing on to it. This tension really came to a head over Israel, however.

Omar has repeatedly accused American Jews of dual loyalty. On one occasion, she claimed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, was paying off politicians to put Israel’s welfare before America’s. Tlaib had made similar dual-loyalty insinuations. Ocasio-Cortez stood by her colleagues, and when Pelosi tried to pass a resolution criticizing Omar’s anti-Semitism, Ocasio-Cortez and the grassroots led a revolt and won. The resolution was broadened far beyond anti-Semitism, and the final version was aimed at white nationalists more than anyone else. In March, the pro-Israel lobbying group held its annual conference, and Omar pushed Democrats to avoid it.

What was Sinema’s reaction to all this? The day of Omar’s tweet about the group, Sinema was at its regional dinner. The next morning, she tweeted: “Our support for a secure Israel as a beacon of democracy must remain unwavering. Proud to speak at @AIPAC‘s Phoenix dinner last night about strengthening and deepening this alliance.” She also spoke at the group’s national conference on March 25.

With Democrats increasingly souring on the alliance with Israel, Sinema is determined to stand athwart history shouting “Stop.”

Is her maverick status sustainable, or will pressure to conform amid increasing polarization be too strong? “My guess is if she’s going to have a primary challenge,” Brad Bannon, president of the D.C.-based Bannon Communications Research, told the Washington Examiner, “it’ll be more likely she gets a primary challenge from a Latino, because of the demography of the state, more than an ideological challenge.” Bannon says, “Politics is very much a function of the state you represent.” And Sinema “represents a state that is about as closely divided, in partisan terms, as you can get.”

Perhaps being a maverick in the McCain mold is the way to survive in Arizona statewide politics. For Sinema, that required transcending her reputation for radical anti-war politicking in the early 2000s. She was up to the task. “Few blue state politicians have the range to pull off that transformation, or the electoral room to pull it off,” says Todd. More Democrats, Todd told the Washington Examiner, should be taking notes: “I have been surprised [Alabama Sen.] Doug Jones has not tried it. Or that [former Missouri Sen.] Claire McCaskill didn’t try it.”

Despite the heat Sinema is taking from her left flank, Bannon thinks Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other party floor leaders will happily shrug off left-wing complaints: “My guess is Chuck Schumer doesn’t care. He’s trying to assemble a Democratic Senate majority, and in order to do that, he’s going to accommodate Kyrsten Sinema and other Democrats like her who may be running for either open seats or GOP seats in 2020.” Party leaders understand reality, Bannon told the Washington Examiner, and “the reality is, you can have a caucus that is monolithically liberal or monolithically conservative, but you can’t have a monolithic caucus if you’re in the majority.”

For that reason, Bannon says, “they’re willing to accommodate mavericks like Kyrsten Sinema.”

Seth Mandel is executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine.

When it comes to the possibility of a sweeping infrastructure package, it’s all about the money. Despite some gridlock between the White House and Congress, lawmakers are hoping for a bipartisan infrastructure package sometime this year. What that package would look like, and more importantly what the price tag would be, is still very much up for discussion.

At a recent Democratic retreat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled hope for the prospects of Republicans and Democrats coming together to embrace some sort of sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package. She said Democrats are looking for up to $2 trillion in funding for the project.

“It has to be $1 trillion. I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” Pelosi said.

That number is high, but lawmakers are exploring funding options, including the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1993. There have been multiple reports that President Trump, behind closed doors, supports raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents, but he has yet to acknowledge those reports publicly.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also said last month that “everything is on the table” when asked about the possibility of increasing the tax. A 25 cent increase is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Since 2013, more than two dozen states have raised gas taxes in response to federal inaction on the matter.

As talk of an increase in the gas tax grows, some are pushing back. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity will begin running ads in April in 20 states, urging members of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee not to push for an increase in the tax.

Another idea floated for increasing funding is a “vehicle miles traveled” tax. With that policy, motorists would be taxed based on how far they travel rather than on the gas their cars consume. This is an appealing idea to some, as cars have become increasingly fuel-efficient, further reducing revenue from gas taxes.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has signaled support for a vehicle miles traveled tax, while acknowledging full implementation would be a long way off. During testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 6, Graves called the tax “the most promising long-term solution.”

“A VMT has the potential to be a true user-funded program that captures everyone and gets the Highway Trust Fund back to where it needs to be to maintain our network and improve it,” Graves told the committee. However, he also acknowledged some trepidation about the idea, including privacy concerns about the data that would be collected in order to determine a vehicle’s miles traveled.

Joseph Kane, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed to the Washington Examiner that support for an infrastructure package is ultimately going to come down to funding.

“Funding is still the most vexing question for policymakers in Washington and throughout the country,” Kane explained. “A $1 trillion investment has been referenced in several previous proposals, and is likely to keep coming up — as a talking point if nothing else. But for Congress, the White House, and many other agencies and groups to actually act on such a proposal will take a level of coordination not seen up to this point.

“The energy and visibility are there, but there are still serious questions on where this money will come from and how it will be deployed effectively. The next few months will hopefully lead to more details on that front,” Kane added.

Despite lingering questions over funding, Democrats are determined to try to work with the president to build support for a plan. Pelosi said during the March 11 retreat that she would be personally reaching out to Trump on the matter. Having voiced her preference for a price tag between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, she said that she and the president would “talk about what the number would be.”

“Even if it isn’t 100%, there is plenty of area of common ground to move forward,” Pelosi said. “I think the president wants to do that, and I think the president needs to do that.”

Trump made rebuilding U.S. infrastructure a major pillar of his 2016 campaign, and now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has concluded, the White House is beginning to look ahead to other issues.

Manufacturing is becoming too successful for its own good. The sector is growing so fast that it cannot find enough people to fill open positions, and that shortage is threatening to hurt the nation’s economy in the coming years.

One key reason why the jobs are unfilled — 450,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from about 100,000 during the recession — is that many of them need people from STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Congress isn’t doing much to address the shortage. One thing that could fill the need, expanding high-tech immigration, is a no-go in the current climate.

“People tend to think manufacturing is blue-collar jobs, but you’re hiring rocket scientists and doctors and the like, too. That speaks to just how advanced manufacturing is now,” said Chad Moutray, economist for the National Association of Manufacturers.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is putting its strongest effort toward expanding apprenticeship programs. That’s a good thing, the industry says. The mindset that college is the only path to a good career needs to be corrected, they argue, and the industry needs those workers. However, apprenticeships won’t address the STEM jobs shortage.

Nor is Congress doing much to expand the number of workers entering these fields. The few pieces of legislation relating to STEM that have been introduced involve trying to encourage groups such as minorities or veterans to participate.

“We have not seen legislation at this time which addresses this issue,” said Andrew Powaleny, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, one of the industries that’s struggling to find workers.

Overall, manufacturing will need 4.6 million more workers over the next decade, Moutray estimated in a new report for the National Association of Manufacturers, but it will find just half of that based on current hiring trends. That will grind the manufacturing industry to a halt as companies are unable to expand due to the lack of workers, costing the broader economy $2.5 trillion over 10 years.

The study doesn’t address the wages being offered for the positions or whether higher pay would address the gap. A report last year by the group’s Manufacturing Institute argued that offering higher pay helped to attract talent but not retain it. STEM workers were often hired away by rivals.

“Manufacturing has moved up the skill ladder,” said Dan Griswold, senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “The typical manufacturing worker has to be more educated. The manufacturing jobs that have disappeared over the last few years tend to be the lower-tech ones.” There are U.S. workers that can do these jobs, and they are being hired, but there just aren’t enough of them, he added.

Manufacturing doesn’t necessarily mean hard goods. Moutray found that the industry with the largest number of openings was pharmaceuticals, which accounted for 13% of the manufacturing jobs that were left open in the past year. The next sector most lacking workers is aerospace products and parts.

The administration has tried to address these shortages. President Trump set up a Committee on STEM Education at the National Science and Technology Council, an executive advisory agency. On the other hand, the latest White House budget proposed cutting Education Department spending by $7 billion from last year and the National Science Foundation’s budget by $1 billion.

One way that the government could ensure manufacturing finds more of the people it needs without having to spend more money, Moutray noted, would be increasing the number of visas available through the H-1B program for immigrants with specialized skills.

The visas are in extremely high demand. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in the first week of April that it had already given away all of the 65,000 visas allotted for the year. The visas help the U.S. maintain a competitive edge over other countries, said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas.

“If you’re coming here and getting an advanced degree, I don’t want you going to back to China, I don’t want you going to Canada, I want you staying here,” Hurd said. The congressman has not introduced legislation to expand the H-1B program, nor has anyone else in Congress. Bringing in foreign workers to take good-paying jobs is a tough thing to support.

That shouldn’t be a concern, argued Griswold, pointing to research that finds that every high-skilled immigrant hired results in five to seven workers added elsewhere in the industry.

The Trump administration has fiddled with the H-1B program but not to expand it. It altered the lottery process for the visas in January to favor immigrants with the highest levels of education and discourage bachelor’s degree-level education, a change that experts worried would result in fewer visas being given out. Ultimately, the allotted 65,000 were all awarded, the same number awarded each year for decades.

Both the White House and Republican lawmakers are looking for ways to narrowly change the nation’s immigration policy to stop a massive surge in illegal immigration along the southern border.

The GOP senator leading the charge is Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Johnson told the Washington Examiner he plans to introduce legislation “shortly” after lawmakers return from a two-week recess in April that would address the way immigration officials determine who can claim asylum to remain in the United States.

He hopes the measure can be bipartisan and believes, based on comments from the Democrats on his committee, that both parties will be on board.

“I was very encouraged by a number of Democrats walking by me, on the dais, just basically saying lets get to work on this, we have to fix this,” Johnson said.

Johnson held a hearing last week to examine the latest surge of illegal immigration along the southwest border. At the hearing, Johnson displayed a chart he’s been distributing around the Capitol lately as he tries to draw attention to the ways in which illegal immigration surges are tied to the nation’s immigration policy.

So far this year, Johnson’s chart points out, 240,000 migrants have been apprehended, some at ports of entry but most at points in between along the southwest border.

[Related: US expands program returning asylum seekers to Mexico]

Much of the increase, the chart notes, accelerated after July 2015, when a federal judge ruled that illegal immigrant parents must be released with children soon after they are apprehended.

The court ruling attracted mass family migration from Central America as adults learned bringing children to the U.S. border would prevent them from being detained or immediately sent home.

The White House is moving along a parallel track in seeking ways to make changes that would discourage mass migration. The Trump administration is planning changes that don’t require congressional approval, which, despite Sen. Johnson’s optimism, could prove to be difficult to obtain in the House where Democrats are in charge.

Trump kicked off the effort to reform the Department of Homeland Security by ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her departure was soon followed by the resignation of other top DHS officials. The purge has caused bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill.

According to a senior administration official, the Homeland Security Department will be directed to employ a higher threshold for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States under the “credible fear” standard. Up to 90% of Central American migrants are allowed to remain in the United States initially after making such a claim to agents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

[Also read: Facts not fear: Here’s what DOJ stats say about asylum seekers and court dates]

Only 10-15% of those making such claims are ultimately determined to qualify for asylum when their cases are more thoroughly reviewed by asylum officers. More than 90% of those initially let go under the “credible fear” claim end up staying in the country illegally.

“Individuals conducting the exam are part of the problem,” the senior administration official said. “One of the biggest frustrations is that USCIS hasn’t changed its culture from the Obama years. The reflexive tendency is to believe stories even if they don’t stand up to fact.”

The Trump administration is also seeking new regulations that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold families and children for much longer than 20 days in order to provide time for a more thorough review of asylum claims.

Johnson said he is working with the Senate Judiciary Committee to craft legislation that would alter the nation’s asylum policies and the law governing how long illegal immigrant families can be detained.

“Right now, when 85% of asylum claims are denied, there is something wrong with that initial determination,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s not in favor of changing the current standard for granting asylum in the United States, “but change the bar for that initial determination.”

Johnson has the backing of Senate Republican leaders, who have criticized Trump for his recent purge at Homeland Security but have long agreed with him that the surge in illegal immigration along the border is rooted in bad policy and has to be fixed.

“We desperately need some immigration legislation,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week on Fox News “Special Report.” “The president’s entirely correct about the crisis at the border and the fact that our immigration laws do not allow us to deal with the crisis at the border.”


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