Washington (CNN)Republican Sen. Jeff Flake defended the top Democrat in the Senate against attacks from President Donald Trump, who blamed the deadly New York City terror attack on a program that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer helped shape but later tried to end.
Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that suspect Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant, came to the country through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which Trump described as a “Chuck Schumer beauty.”
“I want merit based,” Trump added
The United States distributes 50,000 visas each year by random selection to people from countries with a low rate of immigration to the US — an effort designed to diversity the country’s immigrant population. The visas offer immigrants green cards, permanent legal residence and a path to citizenship.
While Schumer helped shape the program in the 1990s, he was also part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that crafted comprehensive immigration reform, including an end to the lottery program. The overall bill passed the Senate, but failed to advance in the House.
“Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there,” Flake tweeted
, in response to Trump’s tweet blaming Schumer for the program.
Flake has long been a fiercely outspoken critic of the President and recently announced that he wasn’t running for re-election to his seat representing Arizona. Flake was already facing an uphill battle in his primary and registered low in the polls.
Also on Twitter, Trump vowed to scrap what he called “Democrat Lottery Systems” and fight for more “merit based visas.”
To that, Flake offered another fact-check.
“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 wrote
In August, Flake wrote an op-ed for The New York Times
about Manuel Chaidez, a man from Mexico who worked on his family’s ranch in Arizona. While Chaidez didn’t fit Washington’s estimation of a “high-value immigrant,” Flake wrote, “Manuel is just about the highest-value immigrant possible,” describing his abilities on the ranch and the relationships he formed.
“When re-evaluating immigration policy, it is right to give priority, through a point system or otherwise, to those who have skills and abilities unique to the new economy,” Flake wrote. “We did this in 2013, in the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate. But there must always be a place in America for those whose only initial credentials are a strong back and an eagerness to use it.”
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