As Trump talks DACA deal with Democrats, GOP leaders try to reassert control
President Trump's decision to work with Democratic lawmakers to move forward with border security and protections for dreamers inflamed his conservative base, and raised questions about his promised border wall. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post) September 14 at 4:03 PM
Republican leaders in Congress sought to reassert their authority with an unpredictable White House Thursday as President Trump dangled a potential deal with Democrats to allow hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States while postponing talk of a border wall.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), in his first public comments since Trump met with Democrats the previous night, agreed in broad strokes with his goal of protecting âdreamersâ and toughening U.S. border security.
But Ryan dismissed the possible deal as preliminary discussions and insiste d any agreement must have buy-in from GOP leaders.
âThe president understands he has to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution,â Ryan said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
[Trump, top Democrats agree to work on deal to save âdreamersâ from deportation]President Trump insisted on Sept. 14 that his plans to pursue legislative protections for dreamers will not include "amnesty" and said that any deal must ensure no "obstruction" of his promised border wall. (The Washington Post)
Whether Trump does understand that, however, is unclear, and there was no sign Thursday that Republicans were on a path back to his negotiating table.
Ryan and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been in limbo since Trump suddenly shifted allegiances to Democrats last week, brokering a deal to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government and effectively forcing GOP leaders to accept it post-hoc.
Their uncomfortable position was obvious Thursday, as Ryan tried make clear that discussions about next steps on âdreamersâ must originate with House Republicans, but also have support from the Oval Office.
âWeâre not going to bring a solution to the floor that does not have the support of President Trump,â Ryan said,
âIf we have the support of President Trump â¦ that I believe will get a majority of our members because our members support President Trump,â he said.
At one point, he accidentally confirmed his distance from Wednesday nightâs proceedings.
âThere is no agreement,â Ryan said, noting he only spoke with Trump and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly Thursday morning â" more than 12 hours after Democrats announced a possible deal.House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke on Sept. 14 about President Trumpâs discussion with Democrats on DACA and border security. (Reuters)
McConnell remained noncommittal about a possible deal and put the onus on the White House to come up with a proposal.
âAs Congress debates the best ways to address illegal immigration through strong border security and interior enforcement, DACA should be part of those discussions. We look forward to receiving the Trump administrationâs legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues,â McConnell said in a statement Thursday.
Despite these statements, the dayâs events revealed Trump to be the biggest deciding factor in what happens next, with multiple rank-and-file Republicans indicating they are open to what he chooses to support.
Trump exercises the most power in the dynamic even though he appears not to have a complete grasp of the details. The president swept the debate into further confusion Thursday by saying he wasnât considering allowing âdreamersâ to become citizens, putting him at odds with top congressional Democrats who believed he supported the idea.
âWeâre not looking at citizenship,â Trump told reporters on an airport tarmac in Florida, where he was scheduled to check in on relief efforts following Hurricane Irma.
âWeâre not looking at amnesty. Weâre looking at allowing people to stay here. â¦ Weâre talking about taking care of people, people who were brought here, people whoâve done a good job,â he said.
[âA new strategyâ for Trump? Democrats cautious but encouraged by fresh outreach.]
The comments created some awkwardness for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N. Y) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had said Trump was willing to support protecting âdreamersâ under the so-called Dream Act, which includes a long-term path to citizenship.
âI do believe that there is an understanding that down the road, there is an eventual path to citizenship in the DREAM Act,â Pelosi said at a Thursday new s conference on Capitol Hill.
Asked about Trumpâs comments in Florida, Pelosi said she was basing her comments on their agreement Wednesday night.
âThatâs in the bill,â she said of the pathway to citizenship in the Dream Act. âThatâs in the billâ
The back-and-forth was just one element of a chaotic day that many lawmakers spent debating the implications of Trumpâs agreement with Schumer and Pelosi.
The two seemed encouraged by their position in the debate. On Thursday morning, an energetic Schumer was caught on a hot mic on the Senate floor reflecting on the previous nightâs dinner.
âHe likes us,â Schumer appeared to say about the president. âHe likes me anyway â¦ Hereâs what I told him: Mr. President, youâre much better off if you do one step right, and one step left. If you just step in one direction, youâre boxed. He gets that.â
In a positive sign for the White House, few rank-and-file Republicans reje cted out-of-hand the notion of a deal combining border security measures with protection for âdreamers,â even if it means no immediate funding for a border wall.
âAny immigration fix will have to address the security of the southern border. A wall for a wallâs sake? Not so much,â said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
A path to citizenship could complicate the debate for many Republicans, Meadows added, though GOP members seemed to adopt a wait-and-see attitude as the White House hammers out its plan.
Schumer and Pelosi said border security measures in the final agreement could include drones, sensor technology, road repairs and other strategies included in a bipartisan bill from 2013 that instructed federal officials to draft a plan ensuring apprehension of 90 percent of all illegal border-crossers within five years.
Some Republicans want tougher immigration enforcement and mandatory use of the E-verif y employment eligibility system as part of a final deal.
But even immigration hard-liners like Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) seemed open to hearing what the White House comes up with.
âWe want to have compassion for these children. â¦ At the same time, the American people need to be brought into this too. What will they get?â Barletta said, adding heâs not disappointed in Trump.
âHeâs kept his promises on the campaign trail. I have no reason to believe heâs not going to,â Barletta said.
Hard line conservatives had initially reacted to Trumpâs agreement with shock and outrage.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tweeted Wednesday night that the deal would ensure Trumpâs base is âblown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair.â
âHe hasnât had enough voices reminding him of his campaign promises, and I want to remind him,â King said Thursday, acknowledging that âitâs harder to resist the president of your own party.â
Trump said Thursday morning he would only agree to a deal if it includes âextreme security.â
âWe want to get massive border security. And I think that both Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer, I think they agree with it,â Trump said on the Florida tarmac.
âLook, 92 percent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is very, very powerful border security, okay?â he said, referring to survey data in support of âdreamers.â
No matter where the negotiations go in the coming weeks, they will not include serious consideration of a GOP plan to limit legal immigration.
The Raise Act, proposed by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), would slash legal immigration levels in half over the next decade and cap annual refuÂgee admissions at 50,000.
While the bill is popular with Trumpâs most ardent supporters and conservative lawmakers, it is widely opposed by Democrats and many Republicans, who see it as potentially harmful to the economy and a break with decades of American tradition.
The measure has Trumpâs support, but he agreed Wednesday night to not include it as part of any âdreamerâ agreement, according to multiple people familiar with the meeting who asked for anonymity to speak about it.
The path ahead could be perilous for Democrats regardless.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, the vice-chair of the congressional Hispanic Caucus, said he worries that the White House is sending mixed messages about Trumpâs true intentions on immigration and that the discussion of border security appears to be drifting away from plans to invest in new technology for monitoring the border and toward more aggressive immigration enforcement tactics.
The Arizona Democrat said many members are worried that pairing border security with protections for âdreamersâ in a single bill could put Democrats in the difficult position of deciding whether to vote for a Dream Act that includes security measures they oppose.
âI really believe that everyone one of us is going to face a crucible where there is going to be something in the security package that we have opposed,â Grijalva said.
âThere will be this humanity demand versus upping the security and letting [immigration enforcement] become more extra judicial.â
In the House, these concerns led members of the minority to discuss working with GOP leaders to allow separate votes on proposals to protect âdreamersâ and bolster border security.
But those familiar with the idea, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the talks, stressed itâs in the preliminary stages and may ultimately not be feasible.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) spoke for many Democrats when he urged leaders to proceed with caution.
âIâve no idea how Donald Trumpâs brain works. All I know is, heâs caused a lot of concern and anxiety among 800,000 people, a nd weâve got to find a way to fix this,â McGovern said.
âI know where his heart is and itâs not where mine is. â¦ So weâre all a little bit skeptical because of who he is. When it comes to immigrants, heâs not a very nice person.â
Paul Kane, Kelsey Snell and Amber Phillips contributed.
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