Trump stuns Washington with immigration moves

President Trump stunned his conservative supporters on Thursday by asserting his willingness to strike a deal with Democrats to protect young immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

But the president and his team also sowed confusion by offering contradictory statements about potential stumbling blocks to the deal.

Speaking to reporters in Washington and Florida, Trump backed a broad outline of a plan Democratic leaders said they agreed to during a Wednesday dinner at the White House. The trade-off would include new border security measures.


“We're working on a plan for DACA,” the president said at the White House, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which shields certain young people from deportation and allows them to work.

Trump terminated the program last week. Benefits are set to begin expiring in March, setting off a scramble in Congress to find a solution for the thousands of immigrants who are enrolled.

He declared the two sides are “fairly close” to reaching a deal, saying the plan must include “massive border security” but that “the wall will come later.”

Earlier Thursday, the president appeared to contradict House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.), who issued a surprise Wednesday night announcement about an agreement on immigration.

“No deal was made last night on DACA,” Trump tweeted.

But Trump’s comments Thursday largely matched those coming from the Democratic leaders. 

“We agreed to plan to work at an agreement to protect our nation's Dreamers from deportation,” Pelosi said, referring to DACA recipients, at a news conference on Capitol Hill. “We [will] review border security measures that do not include building a wall as we go forward.”

Like Trump, Pelosi denied that a deal had been reached, saying, “we had an agreement to move forward.”


Republican leaders appeared to be blindsided by Trump’s pursuit of an immigration deal, despite Trump’s claim that “everybody is on board.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE (R-Wis.) both said the president contacted them Thursday morning to discuss immigration legislation.

“There is no agreement,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference. “These were discussions, not negotiations. This isn’t an agreement.”

If Trump and Democrats were to eventually strike a deal, they would still need support from some Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, for it to pass. McConnell stopped short of guaranteeing a DACA bill would be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. 

“As Congress debates the best ways to address illegal immigration through strong border security and interior enforcement, DACA should be part of those discussions,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues.”

Some vocal Trump supporters lashed out at the president for pursuing a deal on DACA, calling it a violation of his campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration.

Breitbart News, the outlet run by former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon, slapped the headline "Amnesty Don” on a story slamming the president over the immigration talks.

As a candidate, Trump pledged to scrap DACA, deport the roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. and build a wall along the southern border to stop them from entering.

“It looks to me like he's preparing to keep Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years The Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? MORE's campaign promise rather than his own," GOP Rep. Steve King (Iowa) said on CNN, referring to Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent.

King tweeted earlier that if the reports are true, then “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

Trump’s overtures to Democrats on immigration come at a time when many Republicans are already upset with his decision to broker a fiscal deal with Schumer and Pelosi.

If the president’s base erupts into a full-on fury over the immigration plan, it might stop the president from pursuing an agreement. But Trump expressed confidence his base will not abandon him over the DACA talks.

Many Republicans are "very, very happy with what we're doing," the president told reporters on Air Force One. 

"My relationship with Republicans is excellent," he said. "Many of them agree with what I am doing."

Yet many hurdles remain before a deal on immigration can be reached, including whether it will include a path to citizenship for young immigrants and funding for Trump’s border wall. 


Trump baffled many on Capitol Hill by offering mixed signals on both issues.

He declared, “we’re not looking at citizenship,” just minutes after a White House spokesperson told reporters the president is considering “a responsible path forward ... that could include legal citizenship over a period of time.”

Even though Trump said border-wall funding could come later, he insisted it must be approved soon, perhaps even as a part of the DACA negotiations. 

“If we don't have the wall, we're doing nothing,” the president told reporters in Florida. “The wall, to me, is vital.  If I don't get the wall, then we will become the obstructionists.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the Rules Committee, said the country is learning to adapt to Trump's unpredictable leadership style — and that includes Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“As the country adapts itself to Mr. Trump’s leadership, we’re learning more about what that leadership means," Sessions said. "Typically, a president for our party would work with our party on a proposal that we would be supportive of. And so we’re learning, now, how he wants to operate." 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Progressive Caucus, said Trump's contradictory statements on immigration the past 24 hours have made it tough for lawmakers to formulate a response, particularly to the demand for new border security.


"It entirely depends on what you mean by 'some security,' " he said. "The president said ‘robust,’ and the wall’s not off the table, he said today, even though we were told that the wall’s off the table.

"Without clarity I don’t [know how] to answer your questions."

Mike Lillis contributed.