Trump faces backlash over immigration ‘deal’
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.
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.