President Trump told lawmakers Wednesday that Republicans will move quickly to shelter hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing an uncertain future after the president gutted a program granting legal rights to those same immigrants.
He also promised he would not seek to link funding for his proposed border wall to legislative action on the program.
Trump last week rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), giving Congress a six-month deadline to come up with a legislative solution. But in a White House meeting with centrist lawmakers from both parties, the president said he doesn’t want to wait that long, according to one of the participants.
Indeed, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the president is already getting impatient.
“He says, ‘Oh, DACA, we want to move on this quick, we don’t want to wait six months,’ ” Cuellar said after the meeting. “He said, ‘It’s already been six days and nothing’s happened.’ ”
Cuellar said Trump didn’t propose a timeline, but voiced concerns that waiting until the March 5 deadline grows closer would only put a spotlight on the issue and make it more difficult for Congress to act. The president, Cuellar said, wants to move “when people are not expecting it.”
Democratic leaders have warned that they’ll opposed any new funding for Trump’s border wall. In response, the president told the lawmakers Wednesday that he’ll divorce the issue from a DACA bill.
“He said, ‘We don’t have to tie a wall to this. We can put a wall [in another bill],’ ” Cuellar said, emphasizing that other border enforcement measures would likely be included.
That strategy would likely alienate conservatives fighting for more wall funding. And that’s hardly the only hurdle facing a DACA fix.
Trump also floated another idea that would certainly complicate passage of a DACA fix. The president, Cuellar said, wants to include parts of a GOP bill that demands more merit-based screenings for immigrants while reducing the number of legal immigrants by roughly a half over a decade. That proposal, sponsored by Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster Will Putin sink Biden? MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), is a nonstarter for most Democrats.
Cuellar said he spoke to Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, about setting up a meeting between the president and the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Short, Cuellar said, encouraged the idea.
“He said, ‘Absolutely, set it up and we’ll meet with them,’ ” Cuellar said.
Other participants in the meeting were also optimistic, though cautiously so given the historic difficulties of moving immigration-related legislation on Capitol Hill.
“We won't know if it was a success until we see how the conversation translates to policy,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said afterward in a statement.
Wednesday’s meeting came just a week after top Democratic leaders united with the president on a fiscal deal to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide $15 billion to victims of Hurricane Harvey. That surprise agreement has raised speculation that Trump, after months of largely ignoring the Democrats, is ready to start working across the aisle for the sake of jump-starting a legislative agenda that had sputtered under a strictly partisan approach.
Cuellar said Wednesday’s message from Trump to the Democrats was part olive branch and part warning.
“He says, ‘Well, we’re going to give this a shot. And if it doesn’t [work] then we’ll go back to the old way, which is just working with Republicans,’ ” he said.
Just hours after the White House meeting, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE (R-Wis.) huddled with a number of Democrats in the Capitol to discuss a path forward on DACA. The gathering was attended by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the heads of the Hispanic, Black and Asian caucuses.
Participants said that gathering was productive, but they were notably tight-lipped about the details.
A Republican staffer speaking on background said specific border enforcement measures were discussed at the meeting, but declined to say what those were.
-Rafael Bernal contributed.