By Mike Lilis, Jordan Fabian and Rafael Bernal
April 5, 2016
Trumpeting an immigration issue they see as campaign gold, President Obama and other leading Democrats wasted no time on Tuesday bashing Donald Trump’s plan to force Mexico to fund a multibillion-dollar border wall.
Obama, who is increasingly taking aim at the Republican presidential front-runner, warned that Trump’s threat to block money transfers across the border in order to force Mexico’s hand is a “half-baked” strategy — designed primarily to energize conservative voters — that would prove logistically impossible, diplomatically harmful and economically ruinous.
“The implications … are enormous,” Obama said during a press briefing at the White House. “This is just one more example of something that is not thought through and is primarily put forward for political consumption.”
Democratic leaders were quick to pile on, highlighting the political stakes as the two parties vie for the support of Hispanic voters who could prove crucial in swing states in November.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Trump’s strategy exposes the GOP’s “real and palpable … hostility toward American families with immigrant roots.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), a Mexican-American who represents the border state of Arizona, said Trump’s proposal “is almost as ridiculous as his run for office.”
And Luis Miranda, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), accused the billionaire businessman of proving, once more, “just how dangerous he would be for America.”
“He has repeatedly shown that he has no knowledge and understanding of how to foster diplomatic relationships, threatens relationships with our key allies and would undermine our economic security both domestically and internationally,” Miranda said. “Trump simply doesn’t have the temperament necessary to be commander in chief.”
Trump’s ambitious border wall strategy has been a central plank of his tough immigration platform, helping to attract white, blue-collar voters and propel him to the top of the GOP presidential field.
On Tuesday, he proposed to cover the wall’s cost, which he estimates to be $8 billion, by blocking money transfers from the U.S. to Mexico, known as remittances, until the Mexican government provides “a one-time payment of $5–$10 billion.” The threat to the Mexican economy, which benefits from such transfers to the tune of $24 billion annually, would leave Mexican officials little choice but to comply, Trump argued.
“We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage,” Trump wrote in a two-page memo, first obtained by The Washington Post, outlining his strategy. “It is time to use it in order to Make America Great Again.”
The immigration issue has proved to be a nagging dilemma for GOP leaders, both on Capitol Hill and on the presidential trail, in recent cycles. And this year has been no different.
On one hand, the Republicans face pressure to champion hard-line strategies that will resonate with conservative voters opposed to legalization and citizenship benefits for millions of undocumented immigrants — a pressure that’s particularly pronounced during the primaries. On the other, they’re trying to forge a more compassionate image that will attract more Hispanic voters, an ever-growing bloc that could shift the outcome in purple battleground states such as Florida, Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico and Nevada.
Obama won roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and 2012, and national GOP leaders have been scrambling for ways to prevent a similar landslide this year.
Trump’s success has complicated their effort. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll showed almost 8 in 10 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, by far the highest number of any candidate in the field.
And the Republican presidential hopefuls who had been most open to comprehensive immigration reforms — including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — have been pushed out of the race, largely by Trump.
Immigrant-rights groups, meanwhile, believe Trump’s incendiary comments have bolstered their campaigns to have qualified immigrants apply for U.S. citizenship, which would allow them to vote in November.
Through it all, Democratic leaders have been only too happy to draw attention to the Republican struggles. They’re hoping Trump, rather than being seen as an outlier, will become the face of the GOP on the immigration issue. Obama sought to make that case on Tuesday, arguing the immigration policies of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Trump’s closest rival on the presidential trail, are equal to Trump’s.
“I do have to emphasize that it’s not just Mr. Trump’s proposals,” Obama said. “You’re also hearing concerns about Mr. Cruz’s proposals, which in some ways are just as draconian.”
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who represents the border district encompassing El Paso, sees another opportunity in all the attention surrounding Trump’s border wall proposal. O’Rourke argues that the existing 600 miles of border wall “has been a terrible investment,” one that has “cost us more than we’ve gained in security.”
He’s hoping not only that Trump’s plan never reaches fruition, but also that the existing wall is demolished.
“It’s my hope and my faith in this country,” he said.
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