WASHINGTON — GOP lawmakers who dined with Donald Trump at the White House said Tuesday the president denied making a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to protect immigrants brought here illegally as kids.
And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the president agreed that any deal on so-called “Dreamers” would happen only after Congress dispenses with tax overhaul legislation. “Taxes first and then we could solve DACA,” recounted McCarthy, who was among the small group of GOP lawmakers at Monday night’s dinner. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that has provided temporary work permits and deportation relief to some 800,000 immigrants brought here illegally as kids.
Pelosi and Schumer had trumpeted an agreement with the president after emerging from their own White House dinner last month, saying that he had agreed to codify existing DACA protections and to back a broader legislative solution called the DREAM Act that could cover around twice as many immigrants. But Republicans at Monday night’s dinner said the president denied any such deal, and made clear he was focused narrowly on a solution for DACA recipients.
“The president was very clear we’re dealing with DACA,” said McCarthy, R-Calif. “He was very clear the difference between Dreamers and DACA.”
Trump announced last month he was ending the DACA program and giving Congress six months to come up with a fix. The president has suggested he could revisit the issue if Congress doesn’t come up with a solution in time, but administration officials testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday said that immigrants’ temporary work permits would begin to expire absent congressional action, and they would become subject to deportation.
Pelosi and Schumer’s claims of an agreement last month were contested at the time by Republican leaders who insisted the White House had told them there was no deal. And McCarthy and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who was also at the White House dinner, said the president and Chief of Staff John Kelly repeated the assurance to them in person.
“There’s no deal. President Trump said there’s no deal. John Kelly, who attended that dinner, said there’s no deal,” Cotton said. “So there has to be a negotiation that occurs, in the House, in the Senate.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, another attendee Monday night, said the White House would be sending legislative principles to the Hill as soon as this week, although that’s something White House officials have been promising for weeks. House Republicans have also convened a working group on the issue.
For his part, Schumer disputed the Republicans’ assertions.
“If the president is changing his view, he should tell us,” Schumer said. “I have talked to the president, I have talked to General Kelly about continuing on the path that we all agreed to indisputably.”
The back-and-forth came as senators convened their first hearing on the topic since Trump announced he was winding down DACA, which Republicans have long denounced as an unconstitutional overreach by President Barack Obama.
The fates of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many here since infancy, hang in the balance. Dozens were present to hear senators of both parties pledge to work toward a solution, even while partisan divisions that could complicate any resolution were on stark display.
Michael Dougherty, an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, testified that Trump would like Congress to find a solution allowing the young immigrants to remain legally in the United States.
“They are a benefit to this country,” Dougherty told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They are a valuable contribution to our society.”
“Under a rational bill these individuals would be allowed to become lawful permanent residents,” Dougherty said.
Republicans insisted that any solution would need to be accompanied by stronger border security and enforcement measures. But Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley specified that he didn’t mean a “wall.” Trump himself has suggested that his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, which is supposed to be paid for by Mexico, can be addressed separately from a solution for DACA.
Meanwhile, any DACA recipients eligible to renew their two-year work permits must have their applications in by Thursday under the administration’s timeline.