Bipartisan Lawmakers And Trump Convene For Immigration Discussion

Jan 9, 2018
Originally published on January 9, 2018 8:53 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump led a pretty lively meeting at the White House today. He was there with members of his cabinet and lawmakers from both parties. They spent more than an hour talking about what to do about the roughly 700,000 people protected by the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump says he's confident Democrats and Republicans can get to a deal.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There should be no reason for us not to get this done.

MCEVERS: NPR's Scott Detrow reports from the Capitol that Trump and lawmakers don't have much time left to reach a deal on an issue Washington has been struggling with a long time.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Ever since he started the process of ending DACA in March, Trump has wavered on how hard or soft a bargain he'll seek on any sort of immigration deal. Today Trump was conciliatory.

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TRUMP: I'm signing it. I mean, I will be signing it. I'm not going to say, oh, gee, I want this, or I want that.

DETROW: So were leaders from both parties gathered around the Cabinet Room table. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said Democrats want to strike a deal quickly.

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DICK DURBIN: I will say that there is a sense of urgency that's felt by many of us when it comes to this issue. There are many of these young people who are losing the protection of DACA on a daily basis.

DETROW: But there are factions within both parties who want very different things in any sort of deal. Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona warned Trump that lawmakers spent months on immigration in 2013 only to see their final agreement stall.

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JEFF FLAKE: That was six, seven months of every night negotiating, staff on weekends. And a lot of the things we're talking about on border security and some of the interior things have tradeoffs.

DETROW: That's all hard to do before DACA expires in March, let alone before the next deadline for government funding in 10 days. Clamping down on immigration was a big part of Trump's 2016 campaign platform. He wants to see changes in how legal immigrants are granted visas, minimizing the importance of family ties among other things. But Trump told the meeting he's happy to delay broader changes for another bill.

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TRUMP: To me, a clean bill is a bill of DACA. We take care of them, and we also take care of security. That's very important. And I think the Democrats want security, too.

DETROW: In theory, Democrats do want to increase border security, but the details get complicated. For one thing, Trump keeps insisting on his trademark campaign promise of a border wall even if he's dropped the pledge that Mexico would pay for it.

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TRUMP: You need it. John, you need the wall. I mean, it's wonderful. I'd love not to build the wall, but you need the wall.

DETROW: And Democrats and Democrat-affiliated independents like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders just don't want to vote for a massive expansion of border fencing.

BERNIE SANDERS: You know, walls probably were a great idea in the 15th century when the Chinese built their Great Wall. You know what? Technology has advanced just a little bit.

DETROW: So whether or not a deal is struck may come down to how Democrats and President Trump define wall. Immigration activists and other outside liberal groups are pressuring Democrats to vote no on the impending government funding bill unless it includes a fix for DACA protectees.

Democratic leaders are hesitant about threatening brinksmanship, but many rank-and-file Democrats see it as their best shot to get a deal. Sanders says he's confident voters would back Democrats and blame Trump and Republicans if a shutdown fight centered around the wall.

SANDERS: They are the government. They control the House, the Senate and the White House. If there's a government shutdown, it will be on their shoulders.

DETROW: Trump and Democratic leaders say they're confident a deal is reachable. But when it comes to bipartisan deals and when it comes to immigration, there's a lot that can go wrong. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.