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Ample Confusion After White House Immigration Meeting

Democrats and Trump want two bills, GOP wants only one

Lawmakers and the White House keep talking about an immigration deal, but one seems far off . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Lawmakers and the White House keep talking about an immigration deal, but one seems far off . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated at 4:08 p.m. | Republican and Democratic lawmakers emerged from a lengthy meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday with vastly differing views of what happens next. 

On the substance of anything that might emerge, Trump made clear he will leave the specifics up to lawmakers.

“I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with,” the president said during the meeting. “I am very much reliant on the people in this room. … I have great confidence in the people. If they come to me with things that I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it, because I respect them.”

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed on this much: conversations will continue as soon as Wednesday on an immigration bill. They also concur that coming bipartisan talks must be limited to four issues: the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, enhancing border security, so-called “chain migration” and the visa lottery program.

But agreement appeared to end there. Trump and his top aides even seemed to differ on his preferred next steps.

House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and other Democrats who addressed reporters outside the West Wing following the 90-minute meeting believe Trump defines his proposed southern border wall to include other things than a physical wall. He appears to be using it as an umbrella term to also include fencing and border security items.

But Republican lawmakers who came to the microphones in a chilly White House driveway contend the wall means a wall. “That means a wall is part of it,” McCarthy said.

Democrats also said the meeting produced a consensus among Republicans, Democrats and the president that those four issues would be addressed in two bills. But Trump earlier had told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to shoot for a broader bill.

The first would codify the DACA program into law while beefing up border security — and, notably, they did not rule out some of those security funds might be used for what they see as Trump’s broad definition of a “wall.” The second would address chain migration, ending the visa lottery program and other issues as part of a comprehensive bill.

But Republican lawmakers, led by McCarthy, told reporters there will be no two-phase approach. They insisted the four issues — and only those four issues — will be part of an eventual bill before an early March deadline at which time the DACA program would be terminated under an executive order Trump signed last year.

Lawmakers and the White House have “got to limit the discussion to these four topics,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.

The two sides also disagree on the deadline.

Democrats appeared to assign the DACA deadline to the same day, Jan. 19, by which Congress must send Trump a spending bill to avert a government shutdown. But Republicans said March 5 is the actual target date.

Notably, the GOP members appeared to break with the president on the next steps.

That’s because during the meeting Trump voiced support when both Hoyer and Durbin talked about using two measures to address the four issues.

“We’ll do it in steps,” the president said about an hour before members of his own party cast doubt on that notion. Later, however, Trump’s top spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, tried over and over during her daily briefing to align the White House with congressional Republicans.

Her description of Trump’s desired path matched the one he described Saturday and echoed GOP members’ take after the Tuesday meeting: One bill that addresses DACA and the other three consensus issues – not the two measures endorsed earlier by Democrats and Trump.

Sanders told reporters a small group of them had left the meeting after the one-step approach was agreed to; but Democrats were still there, and insisted everyone signed onto two bills.

In another sign of how tangled the immigration web already is, Republicans appear in lock step with Trump over the border wall.

“If you don’t have the wall, you can’t have security,” Trump said during the meeting when asked by reporters .

Democrats, however, oppose the proposed barrier  yet they did not rule out supporting immigration overhaul legislation that would partially fund one.

But the two sides agreed they will keep talking. Just how soon those next negotiations occur, however, is unclear. That’s because Durbin contended they would start Wednesday, while McCarthy and other Republicans said those talks could begin “as soon as Wednesday.”

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