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Did Trump strike a deal with Democrats on DACA? This is what we know.

Vox.com logo Vox.com 5 days ago Tara Golshan
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Video by Reuters

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave more details on Thursday morning about the immigration deal that Democratic Congressional leaders are negotiating with President Trump. She said above all else, Democrats want Trump to support the DREAM Act, which would extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children, and includes a path to citizenship. 

"That has been our insistence in every conversation with the Speaker the president," Pelosi said.

In exchange, Democrats are willing to spend some money on border security — though not a wall.

While the exact details of the deal are still in the works, Republican Congressional leaders are begrudgingly going along with it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that President Trump called him Thursday morning to discuss the immigration deal. McConnell emphasized the need for more immigration enforcement.

"As Congress debates the best ways to address illegal immigration through strong border security and interior enforcement, DACA should be part of those discussions. We look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues," McConnell said in the statement.

Trump's unexpected interest in protecting DACA recipients comes after striking a deal with Democratic Congressional leaders to raise the debt limit and temporarily fund the government.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer left a dinner with President Donald Trump on Wednesday night insinuating they had struck a deal on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program: They’d enshrine DACA, which protects certain undocumented immigrants who came to the US in their youth from deportation, into law. In exchange, Trump would get some kind of border security funding — but not funds for a border wall.

Then shortly after, the White House disputed the story — at least in part. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that “excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”

Trump managed to sow more confusion, tweeting that “no deal” had been made, reasserting his push for a border wall, and then expressing his desire to protect those currently under DACA. What he did not do, however, is definitively assert that funding for the border wall had to be tied to DACA legislation. By 8:30 am Thursday, Trump had already told reporters that a deal was imminent, that GOP leadership was on board, and that a “wall would come later.”

These conversations come on the heels of a Trump administration decision to sunset the Obama-era DACA executive order, which gave young undocumented immigrants protections if they had entered the country illegally at a very young age. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program would expire in six months — by March of next year — if Congress did not act.

On Capitol Hill, there had been early rumblings of bipartisan talks on DACA, including a meeting between Pelosi and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. But according to multiple Republicans senators and representatives close to the issue, discussions seemed far from any actual deal by Wednesday.

“There haven’t been discussions,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been vocal on a need to do something about DACA, told Vox on Tuesday. However, Flake praised Trump for pursuing a deal with Pelosi and Schumer on Twitter Wednesday.

This made Pelosi and Schumer’s statement a particular surprise on Capitol Hill — not to mention that neither Ryan nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who obviously both need to be on board with any agreement, was in the room.

What is clear is that the idea of excluding the border wall from DACA negotiations is not new from Trump or the White House. Trump personally told a room full of moderate Democrats and Republicans he was open to it earlier Wednesday.

If that’s the case, any potential deal on DACA will be a test not only of Trump’s drive to strike bipartisan agreements but also of how Trump’s base — which has coalesced around his hardline anti-immigration stance — will react to what Democrats would undoubtedly bill as a major concession from Trump on the wall.

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The deal that became no deal in the matter of an hour. Maybe.

Here’s a brief timeline of what happened Wednesday night.

After meeting with Trump over dinner in the White House, Pelosi and Schumer issued a joint statement proclaiming they’d had “a very productive meeting at the White House with the President … We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package on border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

In other words, they announced the makings of a coming deal had been made.

But the sentiment didn’t last long. Shortly after, press secretary Sanders came out with a tweet negating a major part of the alleged agreement.

Schumer’s spokesperson responded to Sanders with a tweet saying Trump “made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”

But the White House continued to poke holes in the news. White House legislative director Marc Short called Pelosi and Schumer’s statement “misleading,” according to Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Ballhaus, and said no deal on DACA or border wall funding had been made.

The following morning, Trump repeated his office’s comments in a series of confusing tweets, which attempted to show his compassion for DACA recipients while also reasserting his determination to get a wall built.

It’s important to note, however, that Trump again did not clearly define whether or not he would like to see a border wall tied to a DACA fix — border security can mean a wide range of measures from funding technology to more boots on the ground. He told reporters Thursday that “the wall will come later” and that DACA will include “massive border security.”

Pelosi and Schumer clarified the language of their earlier statement, distinguishing the difference between the “agreement” they announced Wednesday night and an actual deal, noting that Trump’s tweets were not inconsistent with their conversation.

“As we said last night, there was no final deal, but there was an agreement on the following: We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act,” the statement said. “What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible.”

As Trump hinted by saying anything “would be subject to vote,” neither Republican congressional leader was in the room for this meeting. Obviously, both Ryan and McConnell will have to agree to any deal made on DACA for it to move forward. Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) met with Ryan earlier Wednesday in what they claimed was a positive meeting on similar topics, and Trump says they are on board. Requests for comment to Ryan and McConnell’s office have not been answered.

The administration’s move has brought immigration near the top of Congress’s already packed agenda. But while many Republicans have already suggested pairing some kind of border security with any kind of fix, there have been no formal Republican or bipartisan congressional discussions to date on what such a deal would look like.

The White House has repeatedly said it is open to excluding the wall from a DACA deal

While the White House attempted to walk back parts of Pelosi and Schumer’s announcement, initially generating some confusion about the role of the border wall in negotiations, conversations with several moderate Democrats and Republican representatives, who met with Trump earlier Wednesday, show that Trump had already floated excluding the wall from a DACA deal.

“He indicated that the wall would be problematic and that he wants some security in there but the wall would be dealt with in a different bill — he actually said that and that definitely got some attention,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) told reporters after meeting in the White House.

Republican Rep. Tom Reed (NY) had a similar impression from the meeting at the White House.

“At the end of the day there is recognition that a deal can be struck — a get-away-from-the-wall type of conversation,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I got an indication [Trump] is committed to the wall and he will find other ways to get the wall done, but at the end of the day he is willing to talk about border security and additional reforms of the immigration process and also resolve and the children and young adults of DACA.”

Earlier this week, Short suggested the White House will not insist on tying wall funding to a DACA fix.

“Whether or not [the wall] is part of a DACA equation or whether or not that’s another legislative vehicle, I don’t want to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible,” he told reporters.

Of course, enshrining DACA into law could take a number of forms. As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, there are already three proposals that would do something to offer protections for these undocumented children.

Democrats have been pushing for a vote on the DREAM Act, which would allow those who have been in the US since age 18 and have lived here for four years to become “conditional” permanent residents — then removing the conditions after certain requirements are met.

Some Republicans have endorsed the similar, but less generous, Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would allow people who arrived in the US before age 16 and have been here for at least five years to apply for conditional permanent residency, which as in the DREAM Act could be converted into normal permanent residency.

It’s still remains to be seen which will stick, and what kind of added measures will be attached.

Trump is reasserting his dedication to the wall because, for his base, this is dangerous territory for making concessions

Ever since Trump received widespread praise from Democrats and the political pundits for striking a deal with Democrats on raising a clean debt ceiling, funding the government through December, and passing aid for Hurricane Harvey, the White House has been hell-bent on billing Trump as the great bipartisan dealmaker. But last time, he was striking a deal on must-pass pieces of legislation.

DACA is different. It doesn’t necessarily have to get done — and it cuts close to Trump’s core campaign promises.

The very notion of giving in to Democrats on immigration has already sparked backlash from the far-right contingent of Trump’s base the president has worked so diligently to appease, not to mention the greater congressional Republican conference that has been posturing to lead negotiations on immigration.

Conservative Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) response to news of Pelosi and Schumer’s statement Wednesday night was that the deal had the potential to completely destroy Trump’s base.

Breitbart, the far-right media outlet now run by former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, came out just as strong with the front-page headline “AMNESTY DON” and an article asserting Trump caved on DACA.

There is no question that Democrats have identified the border wall as a clear area of resistance to Trump’s agenda. They have made a point to advertise their so-far-successful efforts at delaying congressional funding for the wall in past spending negotiations. It’s expected they would do the same with a DACA deal.

But the wall will always be Trump’s signature campaign promise, and core to energizing an anti-immigration base on the far right. Politically, Trump has forced Democrats to the negotiating table on DACA. If this ends with Trump looking like he has made another major concession on the wall, it won’t be an easy sell to his base. That may be the best explanation for the White House’s muddled reaction to the Democrats’ enthusiastic “deal” announcement.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill there is an appetite for getting something done on DACA that very well may exclude wall funding. But according to a congressional aide close to leadership Wednesday afternoon, it’s still early — and the goal is obviously to get as many Republicans on board as possible.

It remains to be seen if the Pelosi-Schumer agreement will have enough of a coalition to stick.

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