President Donald Trump met with a bipartisan group of Congress members at the White House on Tuesday in an effort to revive stalled talks over immigration, urging lawmakers to pass a “bill of love” to protect some undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Trump expressed confidence that a deal over the fate of the “dreamers” – immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children – was within reach ahead of a March 5 deadline he set before work permits issued under an Obama-era program to nearly 700,000 begin to expire in mass. The president reiterated his demands for border wall funding and curbs to some legal immigration programs, but he said he would defer to lawmakers to hammer out the details and would sign whatever bill they put in front of him.
“I really do believe Democrat and Republican, the people sitting in this room, really want to get something done,” Trump said.
“My position is going to be what the people in this room come up with,” he added. “I have a lot of respect for people on both sides. What I approve will be very much reliant on what people in this room come to me with. If they come to me with things I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it.”
Lawmakers in both parties have said they are waiting for the Trump White House to specify its demands before the negotiations can move forward. Democrats and some moderate Republicans have resisted funding a border wall at a time when illegal immigration over the Mexico border is at record lows.
In an unusual meeting, Trump allowed reporters to remain in the Cabinet Room for more than 50 minutes as he and the Congress members laid out their bargaining positions. Trump challenged the group to “put country before party” to get a deal done.
“Lives are hanging in the balance. We’ve got the time to do it,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., an original sponsor of legislation to legalize dreamers.
During the meeting, Trump also addressed other news, saying he believed a presidential run by media mogul Oprah Winfrey would be fun, but predicting she would ultimately choose to forgo a White House bid despite some enthusiasm among Democrats after she gave a rousing speech at the Golden Globe Awards this week.
“I don’t think she’s gonna run,” Trump said, responding to a question from a reporter. “I know her very well.”
Trump announced in September his plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but he gave lawmakers a six-month window to pass a legislative deal before the temporary work permits begin to expire at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day. (About 122 immigrants a day already are losing their work permits after failing to renew their applications last fall.)
But negotiators have been at an impasse over how to proceed. Democrats and some moderate Republicans are eyeing a Jan. 19 deadline for a must-pass government spending deal as leverage to get a deal done on DACA. But the talks are deadlocked over Trump’s demands for the wall and cuts to legal immigration, including ending a diversity visa lottery and ending what the president calls “chain migration,” the practice of Americans sponsoring extended family members for green cards.
Democrats have balked at accepting major new border-security provisions, saying the administration’s call for $18 billion in funding for hundreds of miles of a border wall is costly and unnecessary at a time when illegal immigration levels have plummeted.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed confidence that the meeting had been productive and said the group had succeeded in narrowing the framework for discussions – yet both sides defined that framework in different terms. Democrats suggested they were open to some border-security enhancements, but they emphasized that they agreed with a statement from Trump that broader talks over additional changes to the immigration system must be done after a deal over the dreamers is completed.
But Republicans said they expect Democrats to address four areas – border security, the fate of the dreamers, the diversity visa lottery and curbs to “chain migration” – which Trump also has insisted on.
During the talks in the Cabinet Room, Trump appeared at one point to agree with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said Democrats are seeking a “clean” DACA bill without additional border security provisions. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., then interjected to insist that Republicans want security included.
“Mr. President, you need to be clear, though,” McCarthy said. When we talk about just DACA, we don’t want to be back here two years later. We have to have security.”
Trump responded: “I think that’s what she’s saying.”
Immigration hawks were not happy with Trump’s performance. Bob Dane, executive director of Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the president was “playing with fire” in the negotiations.
Dane added: “If Trump capitulates to the Democrats and fails to deliver his campaign promises on immigration there won’t be any more campaign promises for the GOP to make in the future because the base will inflict a scorched-earth policy in the midterms.”
Further confusing matters, Trump also said he hoped to pursue a “comprehensive” immigration bill after lawmakers strike a deal on the dreamers. Comprehensive bills, which would deal with work visas and other elements of the immigration system, failed on Capitol Hill during the tenures of both Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Republican leaders of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees said they will introduce a bill Wednesday that will represent a purely Republican solution to DACA, offering legal status to immigrants who had participated in the program alongside a suite of measures that go well beyond the parameters of the bipartisan negotiations. Two Republicans familiar with the bill say it is expected to include several measures that Democrats have roundly rejected, such as sanctions for “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the bill would be a “good foundation” for the bipartisan talks and that more would have to be done after the initial deal is struck,
Trump indicated during the meeting that he would accept a border wall that includes elements of fencing and surveillance tools, such as aerial drones, in the place of a steel or concrete structure. Democrats said they were supportive of additional border security but declined to say whether they were open to supporting funding for a wall.
“That’s all part of the negotiations,” McCarthy said. “What today was about was bringing the narrowing of solving this problem and finding common ground.”
He said negotiators for both parties were scheduled to meet Wednesday to continue the talks.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · David Nakamura