DACA and the Wall
President Donald Trump got elected on the strength of three words: Build the wall.
He was more equivocal on Thursday, after cutting a loose deal with Democratic leaders to protect some undocumented immigrants: “We will build the wall later.”
Trump’s deal-making has left Republicans unnerved, and some of his strongest backers worried that he’s backtracking on his most central campaign promise. Eight months into his presidency, Trump still hasn’t explained when the wall will be built or when it will be paid for, let alone how he will satisfy his election assurance that Mexico will foot the bill.
Conservatives’ worries deepened Thursday after Trump left the border wall out of a deal he decided to cut with the top Democrats in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, to safeguard roughly 800,000 young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is perhaps the most outspoken congressional opponent of immigration, said cracking down on border control is the most pressing concern of Trump’s core supporters. Backtracking would be considered a betrayal, he warned.
“If they see amnesty coming out of the White House then that’s the one thing that will crack his base,” King told reporters. “They’re loyal Trump supporters, but the most important plank in that platform is the rule of law."
Signs of Unease
The White House showed signs of unease over the political consequences.
After Democratic leaders announced in a triumphant late-night statement on Wednesday that Trump had agreed wall funding would be left out of a deal, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly issued a statement declaring he "certainly" had made no such concession.
Trump, for his part, insisted there was "no amnesty" in the deal and stressed any legislation would include "heavy" new security measures at the border - while vowing that the wall itself "will happen."
"If the Democrats aren’t going to approve it then we’re not going to do what they want," Trump said. "So, I think it will work out."
The justifications appeared intended to appease cascading criticism from some of the president’s staunchest supporters. Breitbart News -- headed by former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon -- labeled him "Amnesty Don.”
Trump defended the talks, saying he was working out the deal "in conjunction with the Republicans."
"We have a very, very good relationship with a lot of people, a lot of people want this to happen," he said.
On Friday, Trump warned on Twitter that “CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!” an apparent reference to extended family of legal immigrants being allowed to settle in the U.S.
The president’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, told reporters in Washington Friday that in seven to 10 days the administration plans to outline what it wants in legislation on immigration and border security.
Republicans in Congress, particularly in the Senate, were much warmer to the outlines of the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal, which would protect people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by offering a path to citizenship in return for additional border security funding that wouldn’t include money for the wall.
Tom MacArthur, a moderate Republican from New Jersey, said he supports a legislative solution for the so-called Dreamers, as long as it’s coupled with border security and visa enforcement to prevent people from overstaying. He applauded Trump for pressing forward.
“He’s not going to sit around and wait for us to get our act together,” MacArthur told reporters. “I don’t fault the president at all for this.”
The No. 2 and No. 3 Republicans in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota, both said Thursday that they could possibly back such a deal.
“Eventually, I’m for a wall,” Thune said, but he’s “open” to a DACA deal without one.
That would be hard for some Republicans, like Trump backer Representative Chris Collins of New York, to accept. Collins said granting a path to citizenship would be too far, but he supports the president’s outreach to Democrats.
“He wants to get things going and you see that some of these things have to be bipartisan,” Collins said.
Support for tighter security and immigration enforcement could come down to semantics, as Republicans and Democrats -- and their supporters -- hash out what exactly counts as a wall. Trump himself tweeted that his campaign-pledge wall is already being built “in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls.”
Even if Trump should soften his previous demands for a brick-and-mortar wall, some conservatives such as Andy Biggs, a House Republican from the border state of Arizona, urged his fellow members of Congress to “keep our promise, restore trust, and secure our borders.”
“Nothing short of a physical wall will suffice,” Biggs said in a statement. “I also disagree that the focus of our efforts should be on creating yet another amnesty program.”
Party Support Needed
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Thursday that he will abide by his 2015 promise to the GOP as a candidate for speaker that he would only bring up immigration bills that have the full support of his caucus.
“We’re not going to bring a solution to the floor that does not have the support of President Trump,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. A deal that includes provisions to enhance border protections and enforce existing immigration laws “will get a majority of our members, because our members support President Trump,” Ryan said.
Conservatives like Mo Brooks of Alabama and Mark Meadows of North Carolina say Ryan’s promise still stands, even under a Republican president.
“It is an agreement that is memorialized in writing,” Brooks said of Ryan’s promise.
Republicans are clearly nervous about Trump’s sudden flirtation with Democratic leaders. Last week, he cut a short-term deal to suspend the debt limit and fund the government, surprising GOP leaders.
Discussions, Not Negotiations
Ryan, who originally urged the president not to eliminate the protections for people eligible for the DACA program, said Thursday that Congress often works better with deadlines.
“What we’re doing is talking with ourselves here in our majority to make sure that we are all on the same page ourselves before we proceed on all of these things,” Ryan said. For now, Ryan said, Trump’s conversations with Democrats “were discussions, not negotiations. There isn’t an agreement.”
Trump, on his way to Florida on Thursday to survey hurricane damage, insisted that his relationship with Republicans is solid, even though he says he was “poorly treated” in the GOP’s failed attempt at health care legislation earlier this year.
“We have to get things passed,” Trump said. “And if we can’t get things passed, then we have to go a different route.”