DACA deal or no deal?
Confusion reigns on the details as Trump scrambles political alliances
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared ready to follow through on making a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress to protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation despite scorching blowback Thursday from his base of supporters.
Amid withering criticism from immigration hawks — including an “Amnesty Don” label plastered on the front of conservative Breitbart News — Trump told reporters while visiting Florida that “everybody’s on board. … We’re talking about taking care of people, people who were brought here, people who’ve done a good job.”
But confusion reigned as to exactly what the deal is. The president seemed to contradict himself after asserting in an early morning Twitter post that “no deal was made last night on DACA” at a White House dinner that included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
But before leaving for Florida, Trump told reporters that “we’re working on DACA.” He added, “The wall will come later,” seemingly removing a potential obstacle to a legislative deal.
He also had a warning for Democrats: “If the Democrats aren’t going to approve it (money for the border wall), then we’re not going to do what they
want,” he said, adding, “DACA now and the wall very soon, but the wall will happen.”
In the fog of the morning after the White House dinner, immigration hawks like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were holding their fire.
“We’ll see what the substance and policy is,” he said. “There have been conflicting reports about the meeting, and what matters is the substance and policy.”
But it appeared that few of those all-important policy details would emerge soon, even as Hispanic leaders held a rally in front of the White House, saying they were buoyed by apparent momentum toward passing the Dream Act, legislation that could protect the nearly 800,000 young immigrants in jeopardy after Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Despite Trump’s assurances, Republicans chafed at the news of Trump working once more with Democrats after the president and Democratic leaders agreed last week on a deal to increase the debt ceiling and fund the government into December.
Some vowed that Trump would pay a steep political price for any compromise on so-called Dreamers, particularly if it comes before any hard guarantees on a border wall.
“I think something is going to have to be reversed here with this president’s policy or it will just blow up his base,” hard-right U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told CNN. “I mean, this was a straight-up promise all the way through his campaign.”
‘What’s going on here?’
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, summed up conservatives’ mounting frustrations in an interview with Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs.
“We do have a lot of people who don’t want one (a wall). We were just voting in the House and really, Lou, I was just sitting there, we had 23 votes and most of the Democratic amendments to the appropriation bill passed. And, it seemed most of the Republicans’ (amendments) did not.”
Gohmert continued, “I’m asking people around me, what’s going on here? Is this some parallel universe? We are supposed to be the majority and supposed to be getting these things done. We have got to get a wall done. It doesn’t have to be everywhere, but we have got to get that done. Some of us are not giving up.”
Trump also sought to reassure his conservative base that letting Dreamers stay does not mean “amnesty” or a path to citizenship.
Responding to a shouted question by a reporter Thursday about whether he favors amnesty, Trump shouted back: “The word is DACA.”
The exchange illustrated the tricky political stakes emerging from the haze of conflicting reports about Trump’s conversation with Schumer and Pelosi.
In a joint statement after the Wednesday night dinner at the White House, the two Democrats said the president had “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly contradicted the Democrats on whether the deal excluded a wall.
“While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” Sanders said in a tweet.
Schumer press secretary Matt House countered on Twitter that Trump had “made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”
With Trump’s order giving Congress until March to strike a legislative bargain on the future of DACA recipients, few observers see a resolution anytime soon.
Said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio: “It seems to be an agreement to come to a deal at some point.”
But Republican leaders in Congress also sought to downplay the significance of any understanding between Trump and the Democrats.
“He wasn’t negotiating a deal last night,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “He was talking with Democratic leaders to get their perspectives. I think the president understands that he’s going to have to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution.”
Ryan sees compromise
But Ryan also said that Republicans favor some resolution to the humanitarian concerns about the dreamers, a group that has received considerable public sympathy in polls — and from the president.
“There will be a compromise,” Ryan said. “This will occur.”
Ryan also emphasized the need to beef up the border. But he didn’t say specifically whether a compromise on DACA has to include an agreement on wall funding.
A significant number of Republicans, especially in Texas, remain skeptical about the need for a physical wall along the entire southwest border. With Democrats’ votes, a DACA compromise would require only a few Republicans to sign on.
But in an attempt to clarify his commitment to a border wall, Trump’s political organization sent out a fundraising email Thursday with the Republican National Committee.
“There’s been a lot of noise today and a lot of rumors,” Trump wrote. “Let me set the record straight in the simplest language possible. … We will build a wall (not a fence) along the southern border of the United States of America to help stop illegal immigration and keep America safe.”
But to reporters, Trump reiterated that a deal to fund a border wall with Mexico might “come later” ”— in separate negotiations with lawmakers.
“Very important is the wall,” he told reporters on a Florida airfield tarmac Thursday morning. “We have to be sure the wall isn’t obstructed because without the wall I wouldn’t do anything. … It doesn’t have to be here, but they can’t obstruct the wall if it’s in a budget or anything else.”
“(Trump) wasn’t negotiating a deal last night. He was talking with Democratic leaders to get their perspectives . ... He’s going to have to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution.” House Speaker Paul Ryan