Trump hosted the more conservative members of his party negotiating with Democrats in the Senate over DACA, an Obama administration policy that protected young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.
At the start of the meeting, Trump said he hopes “everything is going to work out very well,” but touted the border wall he has long promised.
“I can tell you the Republicans want to see it work out very well,” Trump said. “If we have support from the Democrats, I think DACA’s going to be terrific. … We need the wall, we need all of those things, and frankly, I think a lot of Democrats agree with us when they see what’s happening, when they see the kind of problems we’re having at the border, they really understand it. Whether they’ll vote that way is another situation, but they really understand it.”
Since Trump opted to terminate DACA in September, Democrats and many Republicans have pushed to make the program, which benefits young immigrants who in most cases know no other country, a permanent legislative policy — but Trump and most Republicans have also demanded border security and increased immigration enforcement as part of a deal.
On Thursday, Trump hosted Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a border hawk; Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who is a staunch supporter of tough immigration enforcement policies; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has co-sponsored a bill that would protect DACA eligible immigrants with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin; Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has sponsored a bill that would overhaul and cut legal immigration; and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, who have sought a compromise conservatives and Democrats could live with.
During the meeting, Graham told reporters that while previous presidents had tried and failed to pass immigration reform, but that he’s hopeful Trump could be different.
“Obama couldn’t do it, Bush couldn’t do it, I think you can do it,” the South Carolina Republican told the President, in front of reporters before they were escorted out of the room. “There’s a bill to be had, if you want it bad enough, we’ll get it. It’ll be good for the country, everybody’s gotta give a little bit, but I’ve never been more optimistic about an immigration reform proposal making it to the President’s desk than I am right now.
Not present for Thursday’s meeting were Republican Sens. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who have been meeting regularly with Graham, Durbin, Tillis and Lankford to reach a compromise. The White House and Gardner’s offices did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether they were invited.
Flake told reporters on the Hill Thursday that he was invited but said he wanted a bipartisan meeting to address the issue. No Democratic senators were at the Thursday meeting.
“I was invited,” Flake said. “I think the only — we have until the end of the month to get legislation, we’ve been promised a vote on the Senate floor. It does no good to just have a partisan bill. The only thing that’s going to work is a bipartisan bill. It’s got to have 60 votes.”
On Wednesday evening, Tillis said negotiations had begun to focus on what Trump’s priorities were.
“I think what we’ve tried to focus on is getting the feedback from the administration on what the core requirements are around border security and interior enforcement,” Tillis said when asked by CNN what was accomplished over the holiday break. “We had great discussions before the holiday on trying to bridge some of the gaps between the Dream Act and the Succeed Act (which would make DACA permanent), but we felt like we reached a point to where we we had to have that broader discussion.”
Democrats are pushing for DACA to be resolved before they will for any government spending package. Funding runs out January 19, and a long-term budget deal will require Democratic votes to pass.
Trump set a March 5 target date for the two-year DACA permits to begin expiring, but more than 20,000 recipients will lose their protections before then because they either opted to or could not renew in a brief window allotted in September.