Trump upbeat on bill to grant visas to Irish; U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s resistance ended earlier bid

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is shown on Capitol Hill in this file photo.

WASHINGTON -- Legislation increasing U.S. visas for Irish people, which was derailed by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton late last year, has been resurrected, and the White House is hopeful that it will secure passage for the bill this time.

During a Wednesday news conference at Ireland's Shannon Airport with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, President Donald Trump blamed a single unnamed U.S. senator for blocking the measure, which would have set aside as many as 5,000 additional U.S. working visas.

"We almost made it last time. It was one vote. You know that?" Trump told reporters.

The proposal had already passed in the House with the support of then-Speaker Paul Ryan. But under the Senate's procedural rules, Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle, was able to bottle up the measure in the waning days of the 115th Congress.

Although Ryan is now gone and the Republicans are no longer in power in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised to advance the legislation.

Without stating Cotton's name, Trump expressed hope that the measure would overcome similar obstacles this time.

"I spoke to the one vote, who's a great senator, by the way. And he really is. He's a great senator. And we think we're going to be successful. He's a terrific person. He doesn't mean to do any harm. That I can tell you. He was telling me he loves Ireland, actually, so I think we're going to be in good shape," Trump said.

A spokesman for Cotton declined to comment Friday on whether the senator has discussed the E-3 visa program with Trump.

The senator and his staff members are communicating with others on Capitol Hill about the issue, but "those discussions are nascent," Cotton spokesman James Arnold said in an email.

Asked why the senator had opposed the E-3 visa legislation previously, Arnold wrote: "Senator Cotton believes we should be admitting immigrants to the country based on merit (their skills and abilities) instead of their country of origin."

Referred to as the E-3 visa nonimmigrant program, it gets its name from the portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act where it is found.

The program allows college graduates from Australia with specialized knowledge to work in the U.S. If the legislation, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., became law, then citizens of Ireland in addition to those from Australia would qualify.

In return, Ireland would offer similar visas to American workers.

The proposal has the full support of Varadkar, who highlighted the importance of the measure during an appearance with Trump at the White House in March.

"No nation at the moment, with as many ties as Ireland has to the United States, has so few pathways to legal immigration. And I know we've talked about this on a few occasions. And when we've talked about it, we found agreements," Varadkar told Trump.

When Varadkar thanked the U.S. leader and Congress for their "support for the new E-3 visa program," the audience broke into applause.

Cotton, a frequent critic of U.S. immigration policy, introduced legislation two years ago that would have overhauled the system.

Among other things, it would have capped the number of refugees entering the U.S. at 50,000 per year while also making it harder for unskilled workers to immigrate to the U.S.

The measure, unveiled at the White House in August 2017, drew praise from Trump. After failing to gain traction in the last Congress, it was reintroduced earlier this year.

Cotton and Trump have disagreed on some issues, including criminal justice legislation that was passed last year despite Cotton's objections.

But there has been no public rancor, and the president has been highly complimentary of the state's junior senator.

"Tom Cotton is a great guy. He's a great senator and a friend of mine," Trump told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in February. "We just hit it off from day one."

A Section on 06/10/2019