House Republicans want to be absolutely clear: President Donald Trump did not come to an agreement with Democrats on a program protecting an estimated 800,000 unauthorized immigrants, let alone strike a deal.
“This was not a negotiation — these were discussions understanding people’s positions,” House Speaker Paul Ryan emphasized at a press conference Thursday. “What I am going to do is get consensus among our members. … We are having the conversations with our members.”
On Wednesday night, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer left a dinner with Trump thinking they had reached an agreement: The president would support enshrining the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law in exchange for some kind of border security package — just not funding for a border wall. The border security package would be part of negotiations to come, they said.
Pelosi, Schumer, and Trump all clarified that no deal had been made, but Trump told reporters Thursday that a deal was “fairly close” and that Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were “very much on board.”
But House Republicans aren’t so sure. According to multiple GOP senators and representatives close to the issue, discussions seemed far from any actual deal by Wednesday. They say there haven’t been any negotiations.
Ryan pressed that he would deal with DACA first on a Republican-led basis, and then as a compromise with Democrats. His comments likely found some goodwill with the conference, largely caught off guard by what appeared to be a Democratic-led effort to shape immigration legislation Wednesday night.
House Republicans are doing their best to throw cold water on the idea that anything concrete has been decided on.
“We don’t know what the deal is,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said. “I don’t know what they agreed to. … I don’t think they know.”
While Trump pushes for a quick DACA fix, congressional Republicans are saying they still have to find party consensus
No one has any specifics on what a DACA fix would look like. Though there are three legislative proposals that have been floating around, it’s not clear which could become the basis for a bipartisan deal. Democrats are clearly starting with the one furthest to the left, the DREAM Act, which would eventually provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. But Republicans’ stance is less clear. The only thing all sides seem to agree on is that a deal will likely include some form of border security funding.
In a press conference Thursday, Schumer floated funding border technology, like drones, as a security option. It’s unclear what other demands Republicans will make on this front — or whether they will go further than border infrastructure.
Whatever they do decide, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said House conservatives in the Freedom Caucus were given Ryan’s assurance early that any moves on immigration would be pursued with the majority of the majority party, meaning any deal would be one Republicans are relatively united on.
But getting consensus on immigration in the party might be a challenge.
Though the DREAM Act has historically had some Republican support, conservative members are adamantly opposed to it or to anything that can be billed as “amnesty” — what many say is a road to citizenship for DACA recipients. Currently, two proposed bills aimed at enshrining DACA’s protections into law offer paths to citizenship.
More Republicans have endorsed the similar, but less generous, Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would allow people who arrived in the US before age 16 and have been here for at least five years apply for conditional permanent residency, which, as in the DREAM Act, could be converted into normal permanent residency.
“This feels harder than 2013; it feels like a steeper hill to climb because of the inertia driven by the president,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said of Trump’s openness to work with Democrats on immigration reform. “At least we had a president to oppose as Republicans, even though we had the majority in the House [in 2013]. It’s harder to resist a president of your own party.”
Shortly after the Trump administration decided to sunset the Obama-era DACA executive order, the president relieved some of the pressure to act fast when he said that at the end of the six months he would “revisit” DACA. But coming off positive press coverage for his bipartisan deal on raising the debt ceiling, Trump’s DACA conversation with Democrats seemed to amp up to urgency to act.
Yet Republicans in Congress have a different idea on how these negotiations will go forward. Being “fairly close” on a deal, as Trump asserted, could mean another six or eight months in Washington, Meadows and his conservative colleague Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) mused.