WASHINGTON — White House legislative director Marc Short said Tuesday that President Trump is not insisting Congress fund a wall along the southern U.S. border as part of a legislative fix to address the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
The comments suggest the so-called DREAMers, those protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, may not become a bargaining chip in exchange for Trump’s border wall, a core campaign promise.
The fate of the DREAMers has been unclear since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this month that Trump is ending the program but giving Congress six months to find a legislative solution. Trump plans to lay out priorities for a DACA fix within the next couple of weeks, said Short.
“We are most interested in getting border security, and the president has made a commitment to the American people that he believes that a physical barrier is important to that equation of border security,” Short told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.
“Whether or not that 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 said.
On Sept. 5, Trump began winding down the Obama-era immigration program, and Sessions outlined the reasons the White House believes DACA is unconstitutional. Yet Trump also said at the time he has “great heart” for those protected under the program and that, if Congress doesn’t act, he would “revisit this issue.”
Amid a backlash to the decision and a couple days later, Trump appeared to soften his position about the DREAMers, tweeting they “have nothing to worry about.”
For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!
The White House now appears to be clearing the way for a deal on protecting DREAMers, a move which could have bipartisan backing in Congress. Trump is interested “in solving the issue of DACA,” Short said, and “believes this is an issue Congress has failed on.”
Since the White House made its decision on DACA, the big question on Capitol Hill has been whether Trump would seek to leverage lawmakers’ support for for the 800,000 young immigrants to get funding for his much more controversial border wall. Prior to the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, Trump even threatened to shut down the government if Congress didn’t provide the funds to build the wall.
Trump made a deal last week with Democratic leaders on government spending, disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey and lifting the debt ceiling – but Democrats have made clear wall funding is a nonstarter for a DACA agreement. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. and chairman of the Democratic Caucus, has called that position “hostage taking.”
Asked to clarify remarks suggesting Trump is flexible on separating DACA from funding for the wall, Short said the president is not “backing off” the wall. Rather, he is considering the best legislative vehicle to accomplish it.
“The president is committed to sticking by his commitment that a physical structure is what is needed to help protect the American people,” he said. “I’m not going to prejudge today” whether that’s part of DACA.
He declined to comment on whether Trump would be open to providing DREAMers a path to citizenship.
The White House position could rankle some immigration hardliners on Capitol Hill. Rep. Mike Coffman, a moderate from Colorado who has been vocal about the need to protect DREAMers, acknowledged it may be tough to win GOP approval for legislation that deals only with DREAMers.
He dropped a procedural effort — at least for now — to try and force a vote giving protections to DREAMers for three years after Ryan indicated a different strategy.
“He wants to integrate some border security enhancements and wasn’t specific in what that looked like,” Coffman told USA TODAY. “I think he’s going to get pressure from some of the quite frankly hardliners in our conference that do not want to see a fix to this program,” he said.
At the breakfast, Short also outlined where he sees opportunity for cooperation with Democrats on passing tax cut legislation – mainly corporate tax cuts and rate reductions for lower and middle income earners.
Trump is dining Tuesday night with Republicans and a few moderate Democrats representing red states to discuss strategy on taxes, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
“There is opportunity to partner there,” said Short.
“The feedback we’ve received from many Democrats is they recognize that corporate rates are too high, they recognize the corporate tax system is unfair, it’s causing American companies to leave our shores,” said Short. He said Democrats have also raised “marrying” tax reform and an infrastructure spending package, though that discussion is primarily among Democrats.