Deal or no deal? ‘Dreamers’ wait nervously as Trump, lawmakers joust
The fate of 800,000 young immigrants hung in the balance Thursday as top lawmakers, White House officials and President Donald Trump himself squabbled over whether an agreement had been struck to protect them — and if so, exactly what it was.
In the face of a backlash from conservatives inside the Capitol and out, Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP House members insisted there was no agreement to enshrine protections for the immigrants brought to America as children and now here illegally.
John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, put it this way: There was “a deal to make a deal.”
Mr. Trump himself said he was “fairly close” to an agreement that could protect the young “Dreamers” while also adding border security, as long as his long-promised wall with Mexico also was separately addressed.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — whose dinner with Mr. Trump Wednesday night was at the heart of the controversy — insisted there was discussion and even agreement on legislation that would offer eventual citizenship to the immigrants in question.
“We agreed it would be the DREAM Act,” Mr. Schumer told reporters, referring to a bipartisan bill that would allow immigrants brought here as children and now in the U.S.
illegally to work their way to citizenship in as little as five years if they meet certain requirements.
But one person familiar with the meeting said the president had agreed not to the DREAM Act, but to narrower legislation that would make permanent the protections offered by former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivalsprogram.
What was clear was that the outcome for the “Dreamers” themselves 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 remarkably harsh toward immigrants and revolved around construction of an enormous wall along the entire border with Mexico, Mr. Trump’s sudden pivot infuriated some of his closest allies, and seemed to contain more potential to alienate his base than any of his other unconventionalmoves.
“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 GOP Rep.Tom McClintock of California. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” conservative commentator Ann Coulter remarkedover Twitter.
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 on Wednesday, including the fact 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,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he traveled to view hurricanedamage in Florida.
“But very importantly, what we want: We have to have a wall,” Mr. Trump said. “If we don’t have a wall,we’re doing nothing.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s denial, two people briefed on Wednesday night’s proceedings said that citizenship was explicitly mentioned when Democrats raised the DREAMAct.
Another person familiar with the meeting said that as the president and Mr. Schumer were going back and forth, hashing out the confines of the agreement, the president kept referencing DACA, while Mr. Schumer kept talking about the DREAM Act. After Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in to make clear the distinction, the president signaled he understood the difference and was talking about DACA, the person said.
Exactly what Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer agreed to is unclear. But the posture struck by Mr. Ryan and others on Capitol Hill seemed designed to protect the president from a backlash from his conservative base. Mr. Ryan energetically 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,” Mr. Ryan said. “… 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.”
Mr. Trump has appeared to enjoy his newfound luster as a bipartisan dealmaker since a disaster-and-debt deal he struck with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer last week stunned Washington and garnered a stack of positive headlines.
Mr. Schumer, too, clearly relishes the dealmaking; he was caught on a live microphone on the Senate floor Thursday gleefully telling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: “He likes us!He likes me, anyway.”
President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters Thursday after landing on Air Force One in Fort Myers, Fla.
Immigration rights activists rally Thursday in the Brooklyn borough of New York City during a protest before a court hearing challenging the Trump administration's termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.