As Trump talks DACA deal with Democrats, GOP leaders try to reassert control
President Trump's decision to work with Democratic lawmakers to move forward with border security and protections for dreamers inflamed his conservative base, and raised questions about his promised border wall. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post) September 14 at 2:52 PM
Republican leaders in Congress sought to reassert their authority with an unpredictable White House Thursday as President Trump dangled a potential deal with Democrats to allow hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), in his first public comments since Trump met with Democrats the previous night, agreed in broad strokes with his goal of protecting âdreamersâ and toughening U.S. border security.
But Ryan dismissed the possible deal as preliminary âdiscussionsâ and insisted any agreement must have buy-in from GOP leaders.
âThe president understands he has to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution,â Ryan said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
[Trump, top Democrats agree to work on deal to save âdreamersâ from deportation]President Trump insisted on Sept. 14 that his plans to pursue legislative protections for dreamers will not include "amnesty" and said that any deal must ensure no "obstruction" of his promised border wall. (The Washington Post)
Whether Trump does understand that, however, is unclear, and there was no sign Thursday that Republicans were on a path back to his negotiating table.
Ryan and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been in limbo since Trump suddenly shifted allegiances to Democrats last week, brokering a deal to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government and effectively forcing GOP leaders to accept it post-hoc.
Their uncomfortable position was obvious Thursday, as Ryan tried make clear that discussions about next steps on âdreamersâ must originate with House Republicans, but also have the support of the Oval Office.
âWeâre not going to bring a solution to the floor that does not have the support of President Trump,â Ryan said,
âIf we have the support of President Trump .â.â. that I believe will get a majority of our members because our members support President Trump,â he said.
At one point, he accidentally confirmed his distance from Wednesday nightâs proceedings.
âThere is no agreement,â Ryan said, noting he only spoke with Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly Thursday morning â" more than 12 hours after Democrats announced a possible deal.House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke on Sept. 14 about President Trumpâs discussion with Democrats on DACA and border security. (Reuters)
McConnell remained non committal about a possible deal and put the onus on the White House to come up with a proposal.
âAs Congress debates the best ways to address illegal immigration through strong border security and interior enforcement, DACA should be part of those discussions. We look forward to receiving the Trump administrationâs legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues,â McConnell said in a statement Thursday.
Despite these statements, the dayâs events revealed Trump to be the biggest deciding factor in what happens next, with multiple rank-and-file Republicans indicating they are open to what he chooses to support.
Trumpâs power in the dynamic was true even though he appeared not to have a complete grasp of the details. The president swept the debate into further confusion Thursday by saying he wasnât considering allowing âdreamersâ to become citizens, putting him at odds with top congressional Democrats who believed he supported the id ea.
âWeâre not looking at citizenship,â Trump told reporters on an airport tarmac in Florida, where he was scheduled to check in on relief efforts following Hurricane Irma.
âWeâre not looking at amnesty. Weâre looking at allowing people to stay here. â¦ Weâre talking about taking care of people, people who were brought here, people whoâve done a good job,â he said.
The comments created some awkwardness for Senate Minority leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had said Trump was willing to support protecting âdreamersâ under the so-called DREAM Act, which includes a long-term path to citizenship.
âI believe there is an understanding that down the road there is an eventual path to citizenship in the DREAM Act,â Pelosi said at a Thursday news conference on Capitol Hill.
Asked about Trumpâs comments in Florida, Pelosi said she was basing her comments on their agreemen t Wednesday night.
âItâs in the bill,â she said of the pathway to citizenship in the DREAM Act. âItâs in the bill.â
Among rank-and-file members, Democrats and more centrist Republicans praised Trumpâs stance while ultraconservative lawmakers reacted with muted outrage.
âNothing short of a physical wall will suffice,â Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a conservative hard-liner, said in a statement.
âI also disagree that the focus of our efforts should be on creating yet another amnesty program. â¦ Instead, Congress should prioritize full enforcement of our immigration laws, eliminating incentives that drive illegal immigration, and fully funding a physical border wall,â Biggs stated.
The shifting alliances became more apparent Thursday morning after Trump defended âdreamersâ on Twitter, calling them âgood, educated and accomplished young peopleâ and prompting rank-and-file Democrats to concur.
âI agree with you Mr President,â Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) then wrote on Twitter.
But Republicans were divided, with some lawmakers such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) giving Trump âkudosâ for the deal on Twitter while ultraconservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) decrying Trumpâs position as âamnesty.â
âUnbelievable! Amnesty is a pardon for immigration law breakers coupled with the reward of the objective of their crime,â King tweeted Wednesday night.
âTrump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible â¦ Mr. President, I support your agenda, especially your no amnesty agenda. MAGA!â King wrote, using the initialism for Trumpâs campaign slogan, âMake America Great Again.â
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) seemed miffed at being kept out of the loop. âMorn news says u made deal w Schumer on DACA/hv ur staff brief me,â he tweet ed at Trump.
Other Republicans, even those in leadership, couldnât help but demonstrate their confusion about the whole situation.
In one example, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted a link to a story in which White House officials denied any deal on âdreamersâ existed. Schumerâs office rebutted the tweet, saying Trump has confirmed the basic structure for a deal.
After that, Cornyn simply dismissed the agreement as something Congress will have to approve, in the end.
The feeling of betrayal was acute for conservative hard-liners who support construction of a border wall, which Trump, speaking with reporters Thursday morning, said will âcome later.â
âWe want to get massive border security. And I think that both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, I think they agree with it,â Trump said.
âLook, 92 percent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is very, very powerful border security, okay?â he said, r eferring to survey data in support of âdreamers.â
Schumer and Pelosi said border security measures in the final agreement could include drones, sensor technology, road repairs and other strategies included in a bipartisan bill from 2013 that instructed federal officials to draft a plan ensuring apprehension of 90 percent of all illegal border-crossers within five years.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer called the notion of a physical wall âa âGame of Thronesâ idea for a world that is closer to âStar Wars.ââ
âWhat remains to be negotiated are the details of border security with a mutual goal of finalizing all the details as soon as possible,â Schumer said Thursday morning.
âDetails will matter, but it was a very, very positive stepâ to see Trump agree to seek legal protection for âdreamers,â he said.
Paul Kane, Kelsey Snell and Karoun Demirjian contributed.
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