WASHINGTON – First there was dinner. Then there were the arguments over what was said at the table.
At issue was the fate of 800,000 young immigrants as President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders differed over whether an agreement had been struck to protect them — and if so, exactly what it was.
Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dined with Trump at the White House. On the menu, along with Chinese food, were a host of issues – trade with China, tax reform, funding for the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic leaders had signaled that their top priority would be to extend protections for DREAMers – undocumented immigrants brought into the country when they were children. Their goal was a legislative fix to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, enacted in 2012 and rescinded by the Trump administration on Sept. 5.
When dinner was over, Schumer and Pelosi released a statement that touted, a “productive meeting with President Trump where we agreed to a plan to work out an agreement to protect our nation’s DREAMers from deportation.”
The two also said they agreed to review “border security measures that didn’t include building a wall.”
News reports took the leaders’ statement to mean the trio had reached a deal on DACA, and that Trump had dropped his signature campaign pledge to fund and build a wall on the Mexican border.
The White House denied the hype. Wednesday night, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders protested on Twitter, “While DACA and border security were discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”
In the morning Trump tweeted, “NO deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.”
‘The wall will happen’
Schumer and Pelosi backed Trump with a statement that said, “President Trump’s tweets are not inconsistent with the agreement reached last night. As we said last night, there was no final deal,” but there was an agreement that Trump “would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act.”
Later the president told reporters that he would move forward on a deal for DACA — but only with an understanding that Congress ultimately would bankroll his beloved border wall.
“DACA now and the wall very soon, but the wall will happen,” he said.
While Trump had campaigned on eliminating DACA, he had second thoughts upon taking office. His administration maintained that former President Barack Obama did not have the authority to override existing immigration law, but Trump had sympathy for those who, as he tweeted Thursday, have been in the country for years “through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at a young age.”
But after prodding from pro-enforcement state attorneys general, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the program. Rather than order an abrupt end to the program, Sessions called for an orderly six-month wind-down that would give Congress time to pass legislation to restore DACA protections.
“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” Trump tweeted at the time.
The GOP establishment is poised to follow Trump’s lead. “Our members support President Trump,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday at his weekly news conference.
But Ryan also noted that the president “has to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for his part, issued a statement that pointedly threw the ball back into Trump’s court: “We look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues.”
Supporters voice concern
As Trump appeared increasingly likely to put DACA before the wall, his base of hard-core enthusiasts — who stood by him no matter what he said on the campaign trail — voiced concern that the president was betraying their beliefs.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tweeted that if reports of a DACA deal were true, the “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.” Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham argued the border security pledge is “meaningless.”
Mark Krikorian of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies argued, “Trump should have stood in the middle of 5th Avenue and shot somebody instead.” It was a pointed reference to Trump’s campaign boast, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Trump’s dinner with Democrats was a snub for Republican lawmakers, whom he did not invite and has belittled for failing to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Last week, when Trump met with McConnell, Ryan, Schumer and Pelosi, he cut a deal suggested by the Democrats to extend the debt ceiling and federal spending for three months.
Asked if he would go with the party that gives him the votes he needs to get his legislation passed, Trump said: “If the Republicans don’t stick together then I’m going to have to do more and more. And by the way, the Republican Party agrees with me. The people out there definitely agree with me. If they’re unable to stick together then I’m going to have to get a little help from the Democrats and I’ve got that, I’ll tell you.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.