Hopes for immigration deal fade as lawmakers trade barbs and Trump declares dreamer program 'probably dead'
President Trump listens during a meeting Tuesday with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP) January 14 at 11:06 AM
Prospects for a bipartisan agreement to protect young immigrants from deportation and prevent a government shutdown later this week faded Sunday as key lawmakers traded sharp accusations and President Trump said hopes for a deal were âprobably dead.â
Negotiators spent last week seeking a solution that would shield young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, including the roughly 800,000 who secured work permits under the Deferred Action for Chil dhood Arrivals program created under President Barack Obama.
But a tentative deal worked out Thursday by a small bipartisan group of senators crumbled in an Oval Office meeting in which, according to multiple people involved, an angry Trump asked them why the United States should accept immigrants from âshithole countriesâ such as Haiti, El Salvador and African nations over those from European countries such as Norway.
[Trump, condemned for âshitholeâ countries remark, denies comment but acknowledges âtoughâ language]
Trump offered a vague denial Friday, and on Sunday, he declared the talks to be failing.If Congress doesn't reach agreement on crucial immigration issues and pass a spending bill, the costly consequence would be a government shutdown. (Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)
âDACA is probably dead because the Democrats donât really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military, â he said on Twitter.
Democrats have tied the immigration talks to spending negotiations being held ahead of a Friday shutdown deadline. Republicans are seeking an increase in military spending; Democrats want a DACA deal and a matching increase in nondefense funding.
Meanwhile this weekend, debate raged over what Trump said in the Thursday meeting â" and whether he had said it at all.
The sole Democratic participant in the Oval Office meeting, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), told reporters Friday that Trump had used the vulgar word ânot just once but repeatedlyâ during the meeting. A Republican attendee, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), issued a statement that did not specifically confirm the words used but backed up Durbinâs account.
But one GOP participant, Sen. David Perdue (Ga.), said in an interview Sunday on ABCâs âThis Week With George Stephanopoulosâ that Trump did not use the word âshithole.â
âIâm tell ing you he did not use that word, George,â Perdue said, accusing Durbin of making a âgross misrepresentationâ of what took place in the meeting: âItâs not the first time Senator Durbin has done it, and it is not productive to solving the problem weâre having.â
Perdue had previously issued a joint statement with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another participant, saying that they did ânot recall the President saying these comments specifically.â
Ben Marter, a spokesman for Durbin, tweeted a rebuke early Sunday: âCredibility is something thatâs built by being consistently honest over time,â he said. âSenator Durbin has it. Senator Perdue does not. Ask anyone whoâs dealt with both.â
Another participant, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said in an interview with âFox News Sundayâ that she did not ârecall him using that exact phrase,â but she acknowledged he âdid use and will continue to use strong language.â
H ost Chris Wallace told Nielsen it âseems implausibleâ that she would not recall that type of comment.
âI donât recall that specific phrase being used,â she responded. âThatâs all I can say about that.â
The âshithole countriesâ remark has vexed Republicans, compelling many to make statements criticizing Trump for the remarks. But it has outright infuriated Democrats who see the comment as evidence of malicious intent in Trumpâs policymaking.
âI think he is a racist,â Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said on âThis Week.â âWe have to stand out; we have to speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug.â
Nielsen said that Trump is simply advocating a merit-based immigration system, similar to those in Canada and Australia. âI take a little bit of offense to the suggestion that the president is racist,â she said Sunday.
While Democrats have expressed openness to a deal that would combine legal status for âdreamers,â as t he group of young immigrants brought illegally as children are known, with funding for border security measures, Republicans have tried to broaden the talks. They have targeted the abolition of a special program allowing citizens of some countries to apply for visas distributed by lottery as well as rules allowing naturalized U.S. citizens to sponsor family members for legal status â" a system Republican critics refer to as âchain migration.â
The tentative deal unveiled Thursday would give legal status and a pathway to citizenship for dreamers while also providing $2.7 billion for border security â" some of which could be used to construct the border wall Trump has proposed. The visas now offered under the lottery system would be reallocated to other immigration programs, such as one offering temporary status to citizens of nations in crisis â" such as the ones Trump referenced in his Oval Office remarks.
Trump said in a second tweet Sunday that he wanted more a ggressive measures in any deal: âI, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries!â
Echoing dozens of Democrats, Lewis said he would not vote for any government spending measure until the dreamer issue is settled.
Republicans cannot pass a government funding bill without Democratic votes. There are 51 Senate Republicans in a chamber in which 60 votes are needed to pass major legislation, and GOP leaders are also facing problems in the House, where some Republican members have balked at the prospect of passing another stopgap that does not increase military funding.
âWe must not give up or give in,â Lewis said. âWe must continue to press on and get a deal.â
[U.S. government, citing ruling, again will accept requests for DACA protection]
A federal judge in California last week halted Trumpâs decision to e nd the DACA program and ruled that participants in the program should retain their legal status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said late Saturday that it would resume accepting renewal requests from people who had already enrolled in the program.
But there is little indication the ruling has helped to defuse the standoff, multiple Democratic aides involved in the effort to secure a compromise said Saturday. On Sunday, the situationâs urgency had not changed. Democrats are trained on securing a legislative solution to the crisis ahead of the Friday deadline.
Todd Frankel, Amy B Wang and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
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