President Trump and top Democratic leaders agreed late Wednesday to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall, according to people familiar with the meeting.
The president discussed options during a dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, that also included talks on tax reform, infrastructure and trade. Trump has showed signs of shifting strategy to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in the wake of high-profile failures by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A possible alliance between Trump and the Democrats on immigration would represent a major political gamble for a president who made promises of tougher border control policies the centerpiece of his campaign. Under mounting pressure from the right, Trump moved two weeks ago to begin dismantling and Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that has allowed 690,000 younger immigrants, known as “dreamers,” to work and go to school without fear of deportation.
But Trump had equivocated on the decision and made clear that he expected Congress to pursue a plan to protect the DACA recipients, offering a six-month delay until their two-year work permits begin to expire in March.
In a statement, the White House described the meeting as “constructive” and said the administration “looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle.”
Congressional aides familiar with the exchange said that Trump and the party leaders agreed to move quickly on legislation to protect dreamers and provide them permanent legal status in the United States. It was not clear whether the president and Democratic leaders agreed that the goal should be for dreamers to eventually have a path to citizenship.
In a statement, Schumer and Pelosi said they had “a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. 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.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that DACA and border security were discussed but she said excluding border wall funding from a package deal was “certainly not agreed to.”
The Democratic leaders said the dinner, which featured Chinese food and chocolate pie, also focused on ensuring that the administration works to shore up the Affordable Care Act in the coming weeks.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump had told a bipartisan group of House lawmakers during a White House meeting that he wants to resolve the DACA issue “real soon,” according to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who attended.
Cuellar said that he told Trump the Dream Act has sufficient bipartisan support to pass and that the White House should be pushing for a vote.
Trump, Cuellar said, told the group: “Oh, it will be on the floor.”
Even if the president and Democratic leaders claim to cut a deal, it will need the support of GOP leaders, who are already wary of the spending agreement Trump brokered with them last week.
Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, met earlier Wednesday to begin discussing the broad parameters of the forthcoming immigration debate. Ryan’s team signaled that despite the administration’s eagerness to quickly seal the deal, it will take awhile.
AshLee Strong, Ryan’s spokeswoman, said that regarding the plight of the dreamers, the speaker “reiterated that any solution needs to address border security and enforcement, which are the root causes of the problem. Discussions among the Republican conference will continue in the coming weeks.”