Trump and Democrats Near Another Deal, This Time on ‘Dreamers’

Updated on
  • President says DACA deal ‘fairly close’ after staff denial
  • Trump says ‘massive border security’ needs to be part of deal

Trump Says He Expects DACA Deal, But Must Have Wall

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President Donald Trump said he’s close to a deal with congressional Democrats to permanently safeguard from deportation nearly a million immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children -- people whose protections he promised as a candidate to end on his first day in office.

He also said that a deal to reinstate the protections, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and established under former President Barack Obama, wouldn’t include money to construct a wall on the border with Mexico.

QuickTake The Debate Over Dreamers

“We’re working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to visit hurricane-ravaged Florida. “You have 800,000 young people brought here, no fault of their own, so we’re working on a plan.” The plan would include “massive border control,” he said, but money for his promised border wall “will come later,” he said.

After criticism by members of his own party, Trump repeatedly shifted his conditions for a DACA deal over the course of the day. Upon landing in Florida, he said the border wall wouldn’t have to be included in the legislation -- but that Democrats would have to promise not to “obstruct” it in the future.

“We have to have an understanding that whether it’s in the budget or in some other vehicle in a fairly short period of time, the wall will be funded,” he said. “Otherwise we’re not doing anything.”

When he returned to the White House later, he again made clear the wall and DACA would be handled separately.

“DACA now and the wall very soon,” he told reporters.

Trump’s deal-making -- which came at a White House dinner on Wednesday with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, both Democrats -- left Republicans flummoxed as the president issued multiple, and sometimes contradictory statements, about what exactly had been agreed to.

News of the deal drew swift rebukes from factions of the Republican party that want to reduce immigration to the U.S. It was the president’s second such deal with Schumer and Pelosi in as many weeks, following an agreement to delay a potential default on the nation’s debt and a fight over the government’s budget until December.

Trump defended his plan to enact a DACA-like program, telling reporters in Florida, “We’re not looking to citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

‘Trump Caves’

Breitbart News, once again run by Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon, published a headline on Thursday saying that “Trump caves on DACA” and that he desires “amnesty” for the immigrants. Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is one of the strongest advocates of immigration restrictions in Congress, lumped Trump together with previous presidents who had sought to grant undocumented immigrants legal status.

“Reagan led with Amnesty, 1986. Bush43 led with Amnesty ’06, Obama led with Amnesty ’13. All failed so...Trump leads with DACA Amnesty 2017,” King said on Twitter on Thursday.

Later Thursday, King said he worries that a DACA deal will rip apart the party’s base. But he said that Republicans will have trouble rejecting something if Trump is behind it.

"It’s hard to oppose the president of your own party," he said.

Several Senate Republicans said they could support some kind of package with DACA protections and border security.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said that Trump made clear in a phone call from Air Force One Thursday that "there is no agreement."

“I think the president understands he needs to work with majority,” Ryan told reporters. “We’re not going to bring a solution to the floor that doesn’t have the support of President Trump.”

A White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the DACA legislation would provide the immigrants a “responsible path forward” that “could include legal citizenship over a period of time.”

“There will be no amnesty,” Walters said. King and other immigration restrictionists generally consider any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to be amnesty.

Bannon has predicted that congressional consideration of legislation to protect the young immigrants, called “Dreamers” by their advocates, would rip apart the Republican party ahead of midterm elections in 2018. And Trump’s advocacy for such legislation runs counter to his campaign promises. He pledged to build the border wall, and also said he would never support amnesty for any undocumented immigrants.

DACA, Trump said in a speech in Phoenix in August 2016, was one of two “illegal executive amnesties” Obama established that he would “immediately terminate” as president. Instead, Trump kept the program running up until this month, when he closed it to new applications after a threat of a lawsuit by several Republican state attorneys general.

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday.

Wall’s Future

Trump told reporters as he boarded the presidential helicopter that he’d spoken with Republican leaders in Congress and that Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky were on board with a DACA deal.

Immediately after the dinner, there was confusion about the contours of the plan. Pelosi and Schumer issued a statement saying Trump had agreed to exclude his border wall. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”

But Trump appeared to clarify the matter Thursday -- contradicting his press secretary in the process -- by saying that wall funding would be dealt with later.

“The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,” Trump said in an early-morning tweet.

Schumer and Pelosi said Thursday that Trump’s tweets “are not inconsistent with the agreement reached last night.”

“We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act,” the two Democrats said in a joint statement. “What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible. While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it.”

Schumer said on the Senate floor on Thursday that his and Pelosi’s statement following dinner was “exactly accurate.”

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican leader, said Thursday that the basic outlines of a plan combining a DACA fix and border-security is a good starting point and has potential.

‘Deal to Make a Deal’

The Texas Republican said the agreement between Trump and the Democrats appears tentative.

“It sounds to me like there’s a deal to make a deal. There’s no agreement yet, and of course Congress is going to be important,” he said. “I think border security is a precondition to any deal.”

A key Republican in the debate reacted angrily to the possibility of a deal early Thursday. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called out Trump on Twitter for undercutting efforts for a bipartisan agreement.

The White House said in a statement that the president had a “constructive working dinner” with the two Democrats that addressed the plight of the young immigrants and various other issues, including tax reform, border security and trade.

White House chief of staff John Kelly, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative affairs director Marc Short also attended the dinner.

Bipartisan Group

Earlier in the day, Trump promised a bipartisan group of House members that he would seek a vote in Congress soon on protecting the young undocumented immigrants, said Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat.

“He did say, ‘We need to move on this quickly. I don’t want to wait six months. People forget about it in six months,’” Cuellar said after Trump met Wednesday at the White House with about a dozen lawmakers who call themselves the “problem solvers.”

Cuellar said the president wanted to put in law the Obama-era program shielding immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children, and combine it with increased security along the U.S.-Mexico border and elements of a separate proposal giving immigration priority to high-skilled workers. Trump also stressed the need for low-skilled workers in the agricultural industry, Cuellar said.

How Trump’s Move Puts Immigrants’ Dreams at Risk: QuickTake Q&A

Trump said his demand for money for a border wall would be addressed separately, the lawmaker said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is already pushing forward on Trump’s promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this month, the agency awarded contracts to build mock-ups. Trump has said construction could cost between $8 billion and $12 billion. After promising in his campaign to force Mexico to pay for the barrier, he has instead threatened to shut down the government unless Congress funds construction.

— With assistance by Arit John, Jennifer Epstein, Justin Sink, and Anna Edgerton

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