Politico

Dreamer talks still jumbled after Trump’s freewheeling summit

President Donald Trump’s freewheeling, televised — and, at times, incoherent — immigration meeting with lawmakers Tuesday accomplished one thing at least, according to attendees: They agreed on what they would try to agree on.

Yet even that tentative outline is prompting pushback from other members who want to tug a final deal on Dreamers to the right or left — further complicating prospects for an agreement that can be signed into law before the young undocumented immigrants begin losing legal protections en masse in March.

Numerous attendees of the highly-anticipated White House meeting left assured that a deal to address the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would include four main parts: Legal status for Dreamers, more robust border security, an overhaul of family-based immigration laws and a change to a controversial visa lottery program. That only those elements were included was a clear signal to conservatives, who are demanding more expansive enforcement provisions in any fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Trump is killing.

“Kevin McCarthy was the one who said, ‘All right, it’s down to four things, right? DACA and the other three things?’” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, the top negotiator for Senate Democrats, referring to the Republican House majority leader. “And we all agreed.”

Added Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): “Those are the outlines of what a potential deal could be. Now, what in fact takes place as it relates to each of those elements is incredibly important.”

The White House concurred, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying the group “reached an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.”

But some House Democrats say they won’t accept those parameters. They argue Democrats are only agreeing to legalize the Dreamers now, and that debates over “chain migration” and the diversity visa lottery need to happen later.

“The statement issued by the White House is inaccurate,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Meanwhile, there’s also a restive faction of House Republicans pushing their leadership to take a hard line early in the immigration fight, worried that the more moderate Senate will ultimately jam their chamber with a Dreamer deal they can’t accept.

The fact that a mere deal to discuss a deal is stoking such consternation on Capitol Hill illustrates the difficult predicament that lawmakers — not to mention the Dreamers themselves — face in coming up with a solution. And yet it’s not all that surprising that the talks have narrowed after the White House immigration meeting, as a bipartisan group of senators had already been focusing on those four core areas.

The group primarily includes Durbin, and Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); the senators have yet to reach an agreement, although they have been working feverishly for weeks discussing different proposals.

For instance, the senators have debated whether to effectively dump the visa lottery — which doles out about 50,000 green cards annually to people from countries with traditionally low rates of immigration — by reallocating those visas to immigrants who have benefited from Temporary Protected Status programs that the Trump administration is terminating. Separately, there appears to be a more notable struggle over “chain migration,” with senators disagreeing on whether restrictions on sponsoring relatives should apply just to the Dreamers or to a larger immigrant population.

It’s still unclear whether the senators will be able to reach an agreement they can successfully sell to both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, not to mention a more conservative House. But defining the mere outlines of a deal was at least a step closer to a final fix, senators said.

“We did make some progress on it today,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. “The main thing was, let’s define out the basis of scope. Let’s break down who’s going to do what, and let’s start the process, because the hard negotiation is obviously going to be in smaller groups.”

Other Senate Republicans were encouraged that Trump said his long-coveted border wall with Mexico doesn’t have to cover the entire, 2,000-mile boundary. “We’ve been begging him to say this kind of stuff before,” Flake said. “It’s only about 7 or 800 miles total. Some of that is replacement. And more importantly, the wall is really a fence.”

But later Tuesday, discussion of the bipartisan summit only fueled more dissension in the Democratic ranks.

Democrats spilled out of a more than hour-long meeting in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office Tuesday afternoon differing on what had been decided at the White House as well as what they would entertain in upcoming negotiations.

Durbin and Hoyer left the meeting to huddle one-on-one in a separate room, only to emerge with contradictory talking points.

Hoyer maintained that McCarthy suggested those four areas as the basis for a bipartisan deal during the White House meeting, but that Democrats never agreed to those terms and still haven’t. Durbin, meanwhile, didn’t dispute his earlier comments that those four issues were on the table, telling reporters the “devil is in the details.”

“There are ways to do things that are painless and ways that are fatal,” Durbin said. “So you try to find painless alternatives,” Durbin told reporters.

Other Democrats also left the meeting with different stances; Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) suggested they were open to discussing changes to family-based immigration and the visa lottery, while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said those discussions should be part of broader immigration reform and not attached to a DACA deal.

“I don’t think a whole lot of folks in that room really even understand, and I mean no disrespect to them, it’s not their areas of expertise, really what [chain migration] means. … The current law allows for family reunification,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who successfully crashed the White House meeting after not receiving an invite. “And the same thing with diversity visas. When you really think about who’s getting those diversity visas, it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue we’re trying to address with DACA recipients, and we’re making that case.”

When told some House Democrats were disputing even the parameters of an agreement, a frustrated Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) responded: “There is no misunderstanding.”

“There were four issues that were agreed to be part of the DACA deal. … That was what the whole thing was about!” said Diaz-Balart, who also attended the White House meeting. “We have a real opportunity to get this done as long as folks don’t start backtracking from what was talked about today.”

But even if House Democrats ultimately get on board, there’s trouble brewing among the House GOP.

Senior House Republicans used a closed-door conference meeting earlier Tuesday to begin pressuring Speaker Paul Ryan and his top lieutenants to take a harder line on immigration. In particular, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) urged leaders to put a conservative DACA bill he will introduce Wednesday on the floor for a vote. It addresses some of the provisions being discussed in the immigration talks, but goes further by changing policies governing unaccompanied child migrants and asylum seekers.

House GOP leaders aren’t sure the bill can pass and worry about upending the bipartisan discussions going on in the Senate. But that’s unlikely to quell demands from rank-and-file Republicans that they pass a conservative solution instead of waiting on a bipartisan Senate deal.

“There’s not a commitment [to a vote] yet but this is the only bill that can unify the people,” insisted Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who helped Goodlatte write the bill, which would surely be rejected by the Senate. “We can get to 218.”

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