Trump says he’ll take heat for immigration deal

Trump says he’ll take heat for immigration deal
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE offered support for sweeping immigration legislation at a White House meeting on Tuesday, sending the signal he’s willing to embrace a bipartisan deal in a midterm election year with the GOP’s congressional majorities in play.

Presiding over an unusually public negotiating session, Trump engaged with lawmakers from both parties with the television cameras rolling for about an hour on issues ranging from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and border security to earmarks.

Trump expressed a willingness to be flexible in brokering an agreement that would prevent a government shutdown and listened intently to political allies and rivals alike.

“I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with,” Trump said during a Cabinet Room meeting with roughly two dozen lawmakers. “If they come to me with things that I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it, because I respect them.”

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He suggested he was willing to take on his own political base, saying he was willing to “take the heat” in backing a bipartisan deal. “I’ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans,” he said.

Besides underlining a willingness to negotiate, the performance seemed intended to turn the page on the controversy surrounding a bestselling book about his administration and silence questions about his mental fitness.

The White House initially billed the meeting as closed to the press, but in a surprise move a group of journalists was allowed to observe the meeting for roughly 55 minutes as Trump went around the room to seek input from Democrats and Republicans alike on one of the most heated issues in American politics.

“This open press bipartisan meeting in the cabinet room is how you show not tell how you’ve got a handle on things. Fascinating,” tweeted Dana Perino, who served as President George W. Bush’s White House spokeswoman.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump and others wanted the media, and the public, to witness the group at work.

“I think a number of individuals in the room felt it was a good thing to let you see the cooperation and the conversation between both sides and see how we are working and leading to move the ball down the field and come up with some real solutions,” she said during her daily press briefing.

The president told the lawmakers he wants a “bill of love” to address border security and young immigrants while reiterating his desire for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump sat between Democratic Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Senate Democrats block resolution supporting ICE MORE (Ill.), one of Congress’s most vocal supporters of DACA recipients, and Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia House leaders clash over resolution backing ICE Hoyer calls on GOP to bring up election security amendment MORE (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

He repeatedly said that he would almost certainly sign whatever piece of legislation lawmakers put on his desk, an extraordinary admission that appeared to enhance Democrats’ leverage in the contentious talks.

“When this group comes back with an agreement … I’m signing it,” he said. “I mean, I will be signing it. I’m not going to say ‘oh gee, I want this or I want that.’ I’ll be signing it.”

One of the most stunning parts of the meeting came when Trump appeared to agree with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-Calif.), who proposed a “clean” DACA fix while dealing with other immigration issues later.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE (R-Calif.) quickly reeled Trump back in by reminding him of the need to win border-security measures in exchange for DACA.

The meeting comes at a critical juncture for Trump’s presidency.

After a tumultuous 2017, Republicans are facing mounting pressure to show they can govern effectively ahead of a midterm election in which the party is in danger of losing control of Congress.

The thorny immigration talks are tied to work on a funding bill, with the government set to shut down if a bill isn’t passed by Jan. 19, a possibility Trump would like to avoid.

DACA, which expires on March 5, gives certain immigrants who were brought to the United States as children the right to live and work in this country without fear of deportation.

Trump scrapped the Obama-era policy last year in order to fulfill a campaign promise, much to the delight of his base.

But now, Trump is sending a signal that he wants to take a bipartisan approach following a year in which he attacked policy issues like taxes and health care along party lines.

The outcome highlights Trump’s desire to score another major win before the November elections, but he said things that will make his core supporters nervous.

Some Trump backers are advising him not to tack to the center, a move they worry could fracture his base ahead of the midterms.

NumbersUSA, a group that favors lower levels of immigration, expressed fear that Trump could sign off on so-called amnesty for immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

“Amnesty-now and enforcement/reform-later agreements always fail the American people,” said the group’s president, Roy Beck, in a statement. “President Trump must hold fast to his compact with American workers to greatly reduce both the illegal and legal competition from mass migration.”

Fiscal conservatives were irked by Trump’s endorsement of bringing back earmarks, a move the president said could restore bipartisanship in Washington and result in more legislation becoming law.

“Bringing back earmarks is the antithesis of draining the swamp,” said David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth, which is close to the White House.

Lawmakers in both parties appeared thrilled with how the meeting went, having left with an agreement in hand on the parameters of an immigration deal.

“Well, that was a unique meeting, and I mean that in a positive way,” Durbin told reporters on the West Wing driveway afterward.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (R-S.C.), who does not share Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration, called it “the most fascinating meeting I’ve been involved with in twenty-plus years in politics.”

“The president exhibited, I thought, quite a bit of flexibility when the cameras weren’t there in terms of what we do in this phase and the next phase,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Flake: Trump's Russia summit ‘truly an Orwellian moment’ MORE (R-Ariz.), a vocal Trump critic who co-authored a bipartisan immigration bill with Graham in 2013.

Despite the dealmaking show put on at the White House, some lawmakers noted Trump’s willingness to change his mind and questioned whether the winds might shift again.

“Two days ago, @realDonaldTrump said that there would be no #DreamAct without $18 billion for a wall. Today, he told me that he’d sign whatever Congress agreed to. Let’s hope he doesn’t change his mind tomorrow,” tweeted Hawaii Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDem senator: Trump is acting like a Russian 'asset' Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Unions aren’t a thing of the past. Unions are our future. MORE (D), who attended the meeting.