Trump faces back­lash over im­mi­gra­tion ‘deal’

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica Werner and Jill Colvin

WASH­ING­TON — The fate of 800,000 young im­mi­grants hung in the bal­ance Thurs­day as top law­mak­ers, White House of­fi­cials and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump squab­bled over whether an agree­ment had been struck to pro­tect them — and if so, what it was.

In the face of back­lash from con­ser­va­tives inside the Capi­tol and out, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other GOP House mem­bers in­sisted that there was no agree­ment to en­shrine pro­tec­tions for the im­mi­grants brought to the U.S. as chil­dren and now here il­le­gally.

“We’re not look­ing at cit­i­zen­ship, we’re not look­ing at amnesty. We’re look­ing at al­low­ing peo­ple to stay here.” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Se­nate Repub­li­can, put it this way: There was “a deal to make a deal.”

Trump said he was “fairly close” to an agree­ment that could pro­tect the young im­mi­grants while also adding border se­cu­rity, as long as his long­promised wall with Mex­ico was also separately ad­dressed.

Demo­cratic lead­ers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — whose din­ner with Trump Wed­nes­day night was at the heart of the con­tro­versy — in­sisted there was dis­cus­sion and agree­ment on leg­is­la­tion that would of­fer even­tual cit­i­zen­ship to the im­mi­grants in ques­tion.

“We agreed it would be the DREAM Act,” Schumer told re­porters, re­fer­ring to a bi­par­ti­san bill that would al­low im­mi­grants brought here as chil­dren to work their way to cit­i­zen­ship in as lit­tle as five years if they meet cer­tain re­quire­ments.

What was clear was that the out­come for the so­called Dream­ers was still un­re­solved and sub­ject to much fur­ther de­bate and ne­go­ti­a­tion — and that the pol­i­tics of im­mi­gra­tion, which has de­feated Congress for years, re­mained as tricky and explosive as ever.

Af­ter win­ning the White House on a cam­paign that was harsh to­ward im­mi­grants and re­volved around con­struc­tion of a wall along the border with Mex­ico, Trump’s pivot in­fu­ri­ated some of his clos­est al­lies and seemed to con­tain more po­ten­tial to alien­ate his base than any of his other un­con­ven­tional moves.

“He was so ex­plicit dur­ing the cam­paign on the is­sue of the border wall and border se­cu­rity that if he were to back­track on that prom­ise I don’t think he’d have a sin­gle friend left in the coun­try. Democrats aren’t go­ing to sup­port him and he would lose the en­tire Repub­li­can base,” said Rep. Tom McClin­tock, RCalif. “This was a core ex­plicit and graph­i­cally clear prom­ise he made to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ann Coul­ter tweeted: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump im­peached?”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials quickly rec­og­nized the dan­ger in the back­lash, and the White House shifted into dam­age con­trol mode, with press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders deny­ing a deal had been struck or the wall ex­cluded from it. Some also won­dered aloud on Thurs­day whether the pres­i­dent was aware of the minu­tiae of the DREAM Act leg­is­la­tion dis­cussed Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing that it in­cludes an even­tual path to cit­i­zen­ship.

“We’re not look­ing at cit­i­zen­ship, we’re not look­ing at amnesty. We’re look­ing at al­low­ing peo­ple to stay here,” Trump told re­porters as he trav­eled to view hur­ri­cane dam­age in Florida.

“But very im­por­tantly, what we want: We have to have a wall,” Trump said. “If we don’t have a wall, we’re do­ing noth­ing.”

De­spite Trump’s de­nial, two peo­ple briefed on Wed­nes­day night’s pro­ceed­ings said that cit­i­zen­ship was men­tioned when Democrats raised the DREAM Act.

Bud­get Di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, who was among the group din­ing on Chi­nese food in the White House Blue Room, spoke up to say that the bill does in­clude a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship, ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple briefed, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­close the pri­vate pro­ceed­ings.

Mul­vaney spokesman John Czwartacki said the OMB di­rec­tor does not re­call us­ing that spe­cific phrase, but does re­mem­ber point­ing out the dis­tinc­tion be­tween DACA pro­tec­tions and the DREAM Act.

Whether or how Trump di­gested Mul­vaney’s state­ment was un­clear.

But the pos­ture struck by Ryan and oth­ers on Capi­tol Hill seemed de­signed to pro­tect the pres­i­dent from a back­lash from his con­ser­va­tive base. Ryan dis­puted the idea that any deal had been struck, though his ar­gu­ment seemed to turn largely on se­man­tic dis­tinc­tions.

“These were dis­cus­sions not ne­go­ti­a­tions, there isn’t an agree­ment,” Ryan said. “The pres­i­dent wasn’t ne­go­ti­at­ing a deal last night. The pres­i­dent was talk­ing with Demo­cratic lead­ers to get their per­spec­tive. I think the pres­i­dent un­der­stands that he’s go­ing to have to work with the con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties to get any kind of leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion.”

For their part, im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates and Latino law­mak­ers re­acted cau­tiously, with sev­eral say­ing that any cel­e­bra­tion would be pre­ma­ture.

Many im­mi­grants have been con­sumed by worry since Trump an­nounced last week that he was end­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, or DACA, which has granted tem­po­rary work per­mits and de­por­ta­tion re­lief to hundreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants brought here as mi­nors.

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a so­lu­tion be­fore the pro­tec­tions would end, al­though what he would do ab­sent con­gres­sional ac­tion is un­cer­tain.

AARON P. BERN­STEIN/GETTY

Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer thought they had an im­mi­gra­tion deal with Pres­i­dent Trump on Wed­nes­day and in­sisted there was dis­cus­sion and agree­ment on leg­is­la­tion.

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