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House Republicans Push for Details on Trump-Democrat DACA Deal


FILE - Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, says the DREAM Act has too many legislative hurdles to overcome and that there are other compassionate options for fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

President Donald Trump and congressional Democratic leaders said Thursday that they were close to resolving the fate of 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. But for Capitol Hill lawmakers, whose yes or no votes hinge on specifics, the deal was far from done.

Trump said Thursday morning that he was "fairly close" to a deal with congressional leaders on a permanent legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in return for "massive border security."

WATCH: Trump Wants Border Security to be Part of DACA Deal

Democrats broadly favor granting legal residence or citizenship to the DACA recipients. Republicans broadly favor more stringent border security. The question is whether they can find common ground for an agreement that does both.

Negotiating DACA votes

There already are multiple bills that would provide a legislative fix for the DACA program — from the DREAM Act, a bill House Democrats say is necessary because it provides a pathway to citizenship, to the RAISE Act, a more conservative option put forth by Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida and favored by many other members of his party.

The DREAM Act will be a tough sell for many Republicans, who say it grants amnesty to undocumented immigrants. In an approach that would be consistent with Republican versions of DACA legislation, Trump told reporters Thursday afternoon, "We're not looking at citizenship. We're not looking at amnesty. We're looking at allowing people to stay here."

"That's a nonstarter," Representative Dave Brat, a Republican from Virginia who is part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of DREAM Act legislation. "In terms of what? What package? We don't have a package yet, so we don't know."

Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said the DREAM Act had too many legislative hurdles to overcome and that there were other compassionate options.

Meadows said he wasn't alarmed by reports Trump was close to a deal with Democratic leaders.

"It takes a majority of the GOP conference to pass any bill. To my knowledge, there's been no deal that's been struck between [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and the president," Meadows said. "At the same time, I can tell you we're working in a bicameral way to try to find a reasonable solution on DACA and other immigration-related issues."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, speaks with DREAMERS who are holding a four-day fast on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 7, 2017.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, speaks with DREAMERS who are holding a four-day fast on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 7, 2017.

Republicans left to wonder

But Trump's discussions with Democrats left many Republicans wondering whether they would have the White House's cooperation for their solutions.

"Typically, a president of our party would work with our party on a proposal that we would be supportive of, so we're learning now how he wants to operate," Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas who chairs the Rules Committee, told reporters. "The president engaged, but I don't know that we've seen the president's plan."

Sessions added that he needed to know what "the president is offering as a suggestion before I know that I'm for it or against it."

Trump risks losing more conservative members of the Republican Congress, who say a DACA deal with Democrats would alienate voters attracted to his tough stance on immigration issues.

"If that's blown up here in these negotiations, whether it's his intent or not, they're not going to have a leg to stand on against others when defending our president," said Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa.

Later Thursday, Trump responded to King's criticism, saying he would only go through with a deal if "we get extreme security, if we get not only surveillance but everything that goes along with surveillance. And ultimately we have to have the wall."

Democrats' demands

Schumer and Pelosi face challenges from within their own caucus for negotiating with Trump as well. The differing interpretations of their meeting left many House Democrats wondering whether their leadership could trust the president in negotiations.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, center, participates in a protest against President Donald Trump's decision to end DACA outside the White House in Washington, Sept. 6, 2017.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, center, participates in a protest against President Donald Trump's decision to end DACA outside the White House in Washington, Sept. 6, 2017.

"I'm sure they gave it their all and I'm sure that that's their interpretation," Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois and an outspoken defender of DACA recipients, said of the progress after the Wednesday night meeting. "But with Donald Trump, the only interpretation that's really meaningful, it's his, and then you have to put it on the clock to see how long it lasts."

Representative Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from California who is vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Schumer and Pelosi had insisted on the DREAM Act as part of negotiations, "not something that's a half-measure, like the Curbelo bill."

"We're not interested in not resolving that issue — we want a clear legislative solution so we don't have to be kicking the can down the road," Sanchez said.

Ernesto Delgado, center, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, fills out his renewal application during the immigration ministry at Lincoln Methodist Church in Chicago, Sept. 10, 2017. DACA recipients gathered to fill out applications to renew their permit before the October 5 deadline for current beneficiaries.
Ernesto Delgado, center, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, fills out his renewal application during the immigration ministry at Lincoln Methodist Church in Chicago, Sept. 10, 2017. DACA recipients gathered to fill out applications to renew their permit before the October 5 deadline for current beneficiaries.

Trump told reporters Thursday that funding for a border wall would happen "a little bit later," but Democrats said they would need to know the uses for "massive" border security funding.

"If you're more asking for more border security, then it needs to be for border security, not for more raids across the country because we gave you more [immigration] agents. That's not going to be acceptable," said Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona.

But for now, Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, said the leaders in his party seemed to have found a way to be more effective than Republicans in negotiations with the president.

Grijalva told reporters, "Somehow they've been able to tap his ego in a different way."

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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