President Donald Trump and congressional Democratic leaders said Thursday that they were close to resolving the fate of 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. But for Capitol Hill lawmakers, whose yes or no votes hinge on specifics, the deal was far from done.
Trump said Thursday morning that he was “fairly close” to a deal with congressional leaders on a permanent legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in return for “massive border security.”
WATCH: Trump on DACA: We’re ‘Working on a Plan’ That Includes Massive Border Security
Democrats broadly favor granting legal residence or citizenship to the DACA recipients. Republicans broadly favor more stringent border security. The question is whether they can find common ground for an agreement that does both.
Negotiating DACA votes
There already are multiple bills that would provide a legislative fix for the DACA program — from the DREAM Act, a bill House Democrats say is necessary because it provides a pathway to citizenship, to the RAISE Act, a more conservative option put forth by Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida and favored by many other members of his party.
The DREAM Act will be a tough sell for many Republicans, who say it grants amnesty to undocumented immigrants. In an approach that would be consistent with Republican versions of DACA legislation, Trump told reporters Thursday afternoon, “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”
“That’s a nonstarter,” Representative Dave Brat, a Republican from Virginia who is part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of DREAM Act legislation. “In terms of what? What package? We don’t have a package yet, so we don’t know.”
Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said the DREAM Act had too many legislative hurdles to overcome and that there were other compassionate options.
Meadows said he wasn’t alarmed by reports Trump was close to a deal with Democratic leaders.
“It takes a majority of the GOP conference to pass any bill. To my knowledge, there’s been no deal that’s been struck between [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and the president,” Meadows said. “At the same time, I can tell you we’re working in a bicameral way to try to find a reasonable solution on DACA and other immigration-related issues.”
Republicans left to wonder
But Trump’s discussions with Democrats left many Republicans wondering whether they would have the White House’s cooperation for their solutions.
“Typically, a president of our party would work with our party on a proposal that we would be supportive of, so we’re learning now how he wants to operate,” Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas who chairs the Rules Committee, told reporters. “The president engaged, but I don’t know that we’ve seen the president’s plan.”
Sessions added that he needed to know what “the president is offering as a suggestion before I know that I’m for it or against it.”
Trump risks losing more conservative members of the Republican Congress, who say a DACA deal with Democrats would alienate voters attracted to his tough stance on immigration issues.
“If that’s blown up here in these negotiations, whether it’s his intent or not, they’re not going to have a leg to stand on against others when defending our president,” said Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa.
Later Thursday, Trump responded to King’s criticism, saying he would only go through with a deal if “we get extreme security, if we get not only surveillance but everything that goes along with surveillance. And ultimately we have to have the wall.”
Schumer and Pelosi face challenges from within their own caucus for negotiating with Trump as well. The differing interpretations of their meeting left many House Democrats wondering whether their leadership could trust the president in negotiations.
“I’m sure they gave it their all and I’m sure that that’s their interpretation,” Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois and an outspoken defender of DACA recipients, said of the progress after the Wednesday night meeting. “But with Donald Trump, the only interpretation that’s really meaningful, it’s his, and then you have to put it on the clock to see how long it lasts.”
Representative Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from California who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Schumer and Pelosi had insisted on the DREAM Act as part of negotiations, “not something that’s a half-measure, like the Curbelo bill.”
“We’re not interested in not resolving that issue — we want a clear legislative solution so we don’t have to be kicking the can down the road,” Sanchez said.
Trump told reporters Thursday that funding for a border wall would happen “a little bit later,” but Democrats said they would need to know the uses for “massive” border security funding.
“If you’re more asking for more border security, then it needs to be for border security, not for more raids across the country because we gave you more [immigration] agents. That’s not going to be acceptable,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona.
But for now, Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, said the leaders in his party seemed to have found a way to be more effective than Republicans in negotiations with the president.
Grijalva told reporters, “Somehow they’ve been able to tap his ego in a different way.”
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