Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, questioned the validity of immigration proposals from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, which include a toughening of deportations, and the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico.
“I enjoy reading fantasy, but I don't usually hear it that much from Presidential candidates,” Leahy said.
Trump’s place in the race for the Republican nomination for the White House has attracted ardent support from many Republicans for the wealthy business mogul’s political outsider status and brash, call-it-as-he-sees-it style.
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This weekend, Trump’s campaign website posted his immigration platform. Trump wants to make Mexico pay for a permanent border wall. If Mexico will not build the wall, Trump would take a number of steps to punish the country, such as increasing fees and potentially even canceling visas of Mexicans who want to come to the U.S., NBC News reported.
Trump said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press" that he would push to end the constitutionally-protected citizenship rights of children of any family living illegally inside the U.S., the Associated Press wrote.
Trump also vowed to cut the number of visas and green cards issued to non-citizens, a move the businessman said would inspire American employers to "hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers."
Trump's formal plan does not include a call for the deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, although he has said he favors that idea as well, according to NBC News.
“How do you build an impenetrable Berlin Wall?” Leahy asked of Trump’s border wall proposal, noting the notion of dividing people did not work in Germany in the 1960s until the wall came down in 1989.
Leahy said immigration reform is needed in the United States, but pointed to a bipartisan effort on addressing immigration in the Senate in 2013 as far preferable to the tone of Trump’s ideas.
It's surely no shock that Leahy, one of Washington's most powerful Democrats, would not be aboard Trump's train. Still, Trump is leading the Republican pack in many polls, and he is drawing large crowds at events where he appears.
Leahy has praised his colleague from Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who is seeking the Democrats’ nomination for President.
Sanders has made the vast gulf between America's richest and poorest the centerpiece of his run for the White House, vowing to reign in the “recklessness” of Wall Street, to address poverty, and to push for free college tuition.
Showing a clear contrast with Donald Trump, the Sanders campaign tweeted Monday “It is no great secret that across the United States undocumented workers perform a critical role in our economy.”
In a subsequent tweet, the campaign wrote, “There must be a path to citizenship so individuals can come out of the shadows and participate fully and openly in American society.”
“I’m very proud of Bernie,” Leahy said, applauding his colleague’s consistency over his decades in politics, and his ability to draw huge crowds to his rallies across the country.
However, long before Sanders declared his candidacy, Leahy said he had pledged his support to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democrats’ nomination. The former Secretary of State aims to make higher education more affordable and boost middle class income.
“I gave my word to Secretary Clinton a couple of years ago, and I think everybody who knows me knows I keep my word,” Leahy said.
Political analysts have said having a robust field of candidates from both sides of the aisle is good for the process because it fosters more discussions of where each stands. Even this far out from primary day, political observers expect the narrowing process will start soon.
“I think there are only two or three, maybe four, people running now that are viable candidates for the presidency and Bernie Sanders is one of them,” Leahy told necn. “I think Secretary Clinton, is [another], very definitely.”
Leahy declined to name the other candidates who would round out his list of “three, maybe four” viable candidates. “If I were to mention some Republicans, it would probably be the kiss of death for them, so I won't,” Leahy said, smiling.
University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala, in an interview with necn last week, cautioned primary day success for both parties will come down to organization, not just early enthusiasm.
“Will that translate into votes?” Scala asked of the high level of energy around Bernie Sanders. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, the question is going to be whether that is going to spread out to more, kind of, typical Democratic primary voters.”
And as for remaining uncertainty around Decision 2016, Leahy raised another big “what if:” what if Vice President Joe Biden decides to enter the race?
Leahy’s comments on the Presidential campaign came during a discussion with reporters of his recent trip to Cuba, where he witnessed United States Marines raise the U.S. flag over a newly-reopened embassy in Havana.
“I'll admit that I had a couple tears flowing down, after all these years, to see this,” Leahy recalled of his trip last week. “Are there still going to be some difficulties? Of course. And I'll still be going back and forth. But we might get somewhere.”
Leahy said tough work still lies ahead, including negotiations on telecommunications openness, the exchange of fugitives between the countries, and the long-held trade embargo. But he said there is reason to optimistic about future relations between the countries, which he said could result in a host of opportunities for Americans, including the exportation of agricultural products to Cuba.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Cuban leaders should not expect progress on the embargo without significant improvements in civil liberties in Cuba, the AP reported.