Trump denies deal on DACA after conservative backlash

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President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders reached a tentative deal Wednesday night to provide a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants known as “Dreamers” — but the president backed away hours later in the face of a conservative backlash.

After a meeting with Trump at the White House, Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said they had come to terms with Trump on a plan that would provide protection for Dreamers in exchange for beefed-up border security — but, notably, no additional funding for a border wall.

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The news triggered an outcry from the right, which accused Trump of abandoning his tough-on-immigration campaign stance. And by Thursday morning, Trump denied that an agreement had been struck.

“No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote,” Trump tweeted.

Speaking briefly to reporters shortly after his tweet, Trump said he and the Democratic leaders were close to a deal on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but that any agreement would hinge on “massive border security,” adding that funding for a border wall will come “a little bit later.”

He also said he had spoken to both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and that both are “on board” with a DACA-for-border-security deal with Democrats. The meeting Wednesday night did not include Ryan and McConnell, whom Trump spurned for Pelosi and Schumer on a fiscal deal last week.

“Well, we want to get massive border security, and I think that both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, I think they agree with it, but, so we met last night with, as you know, Schumer, Pelosi and a whole group. And I think we’re fairly close but we have to get massive border security,” the president said. “Yeah, Mitch is on board. Paul Ryan’s on board. We all feel, look, 92 percent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is we want very, very powerful border security, okay?… Ryan and Mcconnell agree with us on DACA. We’re very much on board. I spoke to them, yes.”

In response to a reporter’s shouted question as to whether or not he favors amnesty for undocumented immigrants, Trump replied “the word is DACA.”

Following Trump’s tweets on Thursday morning, Schumer and Pelosi said that while the details still need to be hammered out, Trump was not directly contradicting the pact reached at dinner. They said they agreed to forgo the wall on this deal with the president — though he would still pursue it — and that a border security package still had to be hammered out but could include new technology and roads.

“President Trump’s tweets are not inconsistent with the agreement reached last night,” they said.

Trump also didn’t deny Thursday morning that building the border wall could be separate from any DACA deal. But he emphasized that the wall, which he says is currently under construction “in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.”

After news emerged Wednesday evening of a deal between Trump and Democrats, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on the assertion that Trump had backed off the wall. “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she tweeted.
An aide with knowledge of the meeting said Trump made clear to Schumer and Pelosi that he would continue pushing for the wall, just not as part of this deal. The agreement came as a surprise to most Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, according to two GOP aides, the second time Trump has blindsided them this month after his deal with Pelosi and Schumer on the debt ceiling.

Republicans said they were perplexed that Trump was backing away from his core campaign promises. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said if the deal is true, the “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

One GOP aide said, with a sigh: “Maybe tomorrow he’ll support NAFTA.”

After much waffling, Trump last week said he would follow through on his campaign promise to end DACA, an executive action by former President Barack Obama that currently offers legal protections to nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country. But the president — who has often expressed sympathy for the Dreamers — first gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution.

The news of a deal with Democrats drew swift condemnation from conservatives, including from media outlets and pundits that have traditionally bolstered the president. Breitbart News, helmed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, featured headlines including “Amnesty Don” and “Dems declare victory as Trump caves on DACA.”

Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham was similarly critical of the reported deal, slamming the president in a series of posts to her Twitter account. “‘BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL!’…or…maybe…not really,” Ingraham wrote online Wednesday night, quickly following that post with another noting that “Tonight @David_Gergen & @davidaxelrod are praising @realDonaldTrump. What does that tell you abt any ‘deal’ cut over#DACA?” In a third post, Ingraham labeled the reported agreement “the art of the steal,” a play on Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.”

“When does American working class w/out real wage increase in 15yrs & who send their kids to overcrowded public schools get amnesty?” Ingraham asked on Twitter Thursday morning.

Ann Coulter, another conservative commentator, posted her own flurry of tweets and retweets slamming the president. Just after 1 a.m. Thursday morning, Coulter wrote online that “not to keep score or anything, but the American Revolution was fought and won over vastly lesser perfidy.” Hours later, she linked to Trump’s Thursday morning tweet in which he wrote that dreamers “have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own,” adding her own commentary, “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”

Trump spent all day Wednesday talking about cutting such a deal, floating a similar framework while huddling with bipartisan members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus. Three sources in the room from both sides of the aisle said Trump suggested he would accept new border security measures for a fix of the Dreamer program he sought to rescind — and that he’d let his demands on the wall pass, for now.

One lawmaker present said Trump specifically suggested he could accept the DREAM Act, which includes a path to citizenship for those who migrated to the U.S. as minors.

“He said, ‘We got to get the wall done but maybe we could do them separately,’” one person in the room told POLITICO on Wednesday afternoon, several hours before Trump’s meeting with Democratic leaders. “He said maybe we do border security, but maybe not the wall.”

The sources briefed on the meeting declined to estimate how much border security would be provided under the plan or what the specifics would entail, a key part of any agreement, given the wide range of possibilities that border security could contain. This spring Congress approved more than $1 billion in new border security.

The legislative fix for the Dreamers would be passage of the DREAM Act.

The leaders and the president also did not agree on when such a package would be passed; both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans. But one person briefed on the meeting said Trump and the Democrats want it done “sooner rather than later.”

Another person at the Problem Solvers Caucus meeting earlier Wednesday said: “He’s not giving up on the wall, and we’re not giving up on the wall. But it doesn’t have to be on DACA.”

Trump may still push later for the border wall in a spending bill in December, according to congressional Republican aides, but White House staff publicly backed off that path this week as well. Instead, Trump focused on cutting a deal with the political opposition on DACA.

“We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement. “The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

A statement from a White House official did not mention the deal Democrats say they hatched. The unnamed official said the leaders, Trump and several of his top aides discussed tax reform, border security, infrastructure and trade.

“President Donald Trump had a constructive working dinner with Senate and House minority leaders,” the official said. “This is a positive step toward the president’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans. The administration looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle.”

In an earlier meeting between House leaders, Pelosi told Ryan that Democrats want to see action on DACA in the next few weeks — a deadline most congressional Republicans consider unrealistic.

House Republican leaders insist they have six months, until March, to codify protections for Dreamers. But Democrats want to see a legislative solution by Oct. 5, the deadline for current DACA recipients whose permits expire during the six-month period to renew their applications.

The meeting kicked off with a long discussion of trade and China, a second aide briefed on the meeting said.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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