January 9, 2018
US President Donald J. Trump participates in a meeting on immigration with bipartisan members of the House and Senate in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Jan. 9, 2018.
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan meeting between President Donald Trump and members of Congress appears to have moved negotiations forward, however slightly, on how to address the fate of undocumented immigrants under the DACA program, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.
In what some participants described as one of the most unusual meetings they've attended in their political career, the president said he wanted "a bill of love" and he also proposed a two-step approach that would address the future of the approximately 800,000 Dreamers first and then take on comprehensive immigration reform immediately afterwards.
Members of both parties and the White House said they agreed that the four issues to be addressed in the first phase include DACA, border security, changes to family-based migration, also known as chain migration, and an end to the visa lottery system, a development that could help narrow the parameters of an otherwise wide-ranging and contentious set of issues around immigration.
But while some progress was made about the parameters of the debate, there was no agreements reached on any of the tricky details, only broad sentiments from both sides about the need to solve the DACA issue.
"We'll do DACA. Then we can start comprehensive immigration reform the next afternoon," Trump said as television cameras rolled on the first 55 minutes of the 2 1/2 hour meeting, which featured members of Congress talking to the president about where they stood on the issue. It was a rare, extended look inside a policy discussion between the president and lawmakers.
"I'll take the heat off the Democrats and Republicans," Trump said. "I will."
The bipartisan meeting comes at a particularly tenuous time, with Congress facing the threat of a government shutdown in just ten days and the lack of agreement on DACA tangling up efforts to keep the government's lights on.
Ahead of the meeting, Republicans and Democrats remained at an impasse over the scope of a deal and what, exactly, should be included in it. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left the meeting saying he had no expectations of reaching an agreement today but was encouraged with the discussion.
"I didn't go in with any hope with anything. With 22 people in the room you don't negotiate, but there were a few encouraging things," Flake told NBC News afterwards. He said Trump showed "quite a bit of flexibility when the cameras weren't there in terms of what we do in this phase and in the next phase, and an acknowledgment that a lot of things we want to do are going to be part of a comprehensive bill but not now," he added.
Democrats had hoped to keep the discussions as narrow as possible to immediately create a bill that would address DACA and some components of border security. Trump gave a March 5 deadline for Congress to act, before all DACA recipients' legal status expires. More than 1,000 people a day are losing their protected status.
Democrats would also like to include another 700,000 Dreamers, people brought to the U.S. as children, who didn't apply for protected status. And they want the fix to be the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for all Dreamers.
A group of Democrats and Republicans have been negotiating a deal on DACA for at least two months but members have been waiting for Trump to unveil his specific priorities. On Friday night, the White House sent the Hill a proposal for $33 billion over ten years for border security and enforcement, including $18 billion for the construction of a border wall, further complicating the prospects of a deal.
"The problem thus far has been President Trump's insistence on a completely ineffective and absurdly expensive border wall as a part of any deal on DACA," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning ahead of the meeting.
Democrats have been adamant that they won't support the construction of a border wall. Republicans, many of whom had also been opposed to a physical structure stretching across the southern border with Mexico, now say Trump wasn't literal in his campaign pledge to build a wall.
"Everybody's getting caught up with the wall, but do you honestly believe we're going to build a two thousand mile wall from sea to shining sea?" Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., rhetorically asked reporters Tuesday morning.
Courtesy/Source: NBC News