WASHINGTON — President Trump sided with Democratic leadership in a deal to keep the government open another three months, but stopped short of promising them anything on the program for young unauthorized immigrants he ended earlier this week.
“The bottom line is the president listened to the arguments,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Wednesday of the “very productive” meeting with Trump. “And to his credit, he went with the better argument.”
A congressional aide briefed on Wednesday’s White House meeting said Republican leaders were surprised when Trump suddenly agreed to a proposal from Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to fund the government and lift its borrowing limit for three months, until Dec. 15. The bill also provides billions of dollars in aid for the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Republican leaders wanted a longer extension of the debt ceiling, to avoid multiple votes on the politically tricky issue.
Shortly before the meeting, Speaker Paul Ryan blasted the Democrats’ three-month proposal in a press conference as “ridiculous and disgraceful.”
Republican senators agreed. “I think it’s absurd to continue to say we’re going to go every three months to tell people whether we’re going to pay our bills,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said shortly before the announcement of Trump’s deal.
In the past, Trump criticized Republicans for agreeing to a four-month extension on the debt ceiling, calling them bad negotiators.
The worst negotiators in history (otherwise known as Republicans) have just offered to suspend debt ceiling for four months. Pathetic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2013
Asked why the president sided with Democrats over Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters, “The president can speak for himself.”
But McConnell added that he believed Trump felt that “we needed to come together to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis.”
Pelosi and Schumer pushed Trump during the meeting to agree to sign a version of the DREAM Act that would offer a path to citizenship for young unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children who do not have criminal records and pursue higher education or join the military.
On Tuesday, Trump rolled back the Obama-era program known as DACA that had prevented nearly 800,000 of those young people from being deported. Both Republicans and Democrats have said Congress should pass legislation to legalize this group, but GOP leadership has not made any moves to do so yet.
“We discussed that also today, and Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One Wednesday en route to a tax reform event in North Dakota. “And I said if we can get something to happen, we’re going to sign it and we’re going to make a lot of happy people.”
Trump said he was not sure if the DACA bill should provide a path to citizenship or not, and indicated he would like it to be paired with border security measures.
Still, some in the Democratic caucus wanted to go farther than Schumer and Pelosi in using the government’s looming crises to win concessions on immigration. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., called for Democrats to hold up funding for the government to pressure Republicans to hold a vote on the DREAM Act to legalize DACA recipients. His proposal was greeted with applause in a meeting of Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Politico reported.
But in the end, Democratic leadership decided to agree to help Republicans fund the government and lift the debt ceiling with a three-month limit to create another “cliff” that would give them another chance to bargain over the fate of DACA recipients and other priorities.
“Here is the challenge we face, Democrats are not heartless,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, told Yahoo News. “I vote for natural disaster aid in states other than my own, always have, and I’m not going to do anything to shortchange the victims of Harvey.”
Durbin said no Senate Democrats even suggested holding up funding to pressure Republicans on the DREAM Act.
Schumer announced in a packed press conference with DACA recipients and Democratic lawmakers Wednesday morning that he would attempt to attach the DREAM Act to other legislation to force a vote on it if it does not pass by the end of the month.
“We’re willing to hold things up, we’re willing to attach it to things and we’re going to be aggressive about it,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told Yahoo News.
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