WASHINGTON, United States (AP) — President Donald Trump told lawmakers Wednesday that he's open to signing legislation protecting thousands of young immigrants from deportation even if the bill does not include funding for his promised border wall. But Trump remains committed to building a barrier along the US-Mexican border, even if Democrats say it's a non-starter.
During a White House meeting with moderate House members from both parties, Trump urged lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution for the nearly 800,000 young people who had been protected from deportation and given the right to work legally in the country under former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Trump ended the program earlier this month and has given Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix before the so-called "Dreamers'" statuses begin to expire.
"We don't want to forget DACA," Trump told the members at the meeting. "We want to see if we can do something in a bipartisan fashion so that we can solve the DACA problem and other immigration problems."
As part of that effort, Trump said he would not insist on tying extending DACA protections to wall funding, as long as a final bill included "some sort of border security," said Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who attended the meeting.
"He said, 'We don't have to have the wall on this bill,'" recalled Cuellar. "He said: 'We can put that somewhere else, like appropriations or somewhere.' But that was very significant because a lot of us don't want to tie DACA and the wall. We're not going to split the baby on that one. So he himself said, 'We're not going to put the wall tied into this.'"
Trump has made a sudden pivot to bipartisanship after months of railing against Democrats as "obstructionist." He has urged them to join him in overhauling the nation's tax code, among other priorities.
Trump, who was deeply disappointed by Republicans' failure to pass a health care overhaul, infuriated many in his party when he reached a three-month deal with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling, keep the government running and speed relief to states affected by recent hurricanes.
Trump was having dinner with Schumer and Pelosi Wednesday night, and they were expected to discuss immigration, among other issues, according to White House and congressional aides.
"More and more we're trying to work things out together," Trump explained Wednesday, calling the development a "positive thing" for both parties.
"If you look at some of the greatest legislation ever passed, it was done on a bipartisan manner. And so that's what we're going to give a shot," he said.
The "Kumbaya" moment appeared to extend to the thorny issue of immigration, which has been vexing lawmakers for years. Funding for Trump's promised wall had been thought to be a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats as they attempted to forge a deal.
Democrats have been adamant in their opposition to the wall, but both Pelosi and a top White House staffer indicated Tuesday that they were open to a compromise on border security to expedite DACA legislation.
White House legislative director Marc Short said during a breakfast that, while the president remained committed to the wall, funding for it did not necessarily need to be linked directly to the "Dreamers" issue. "I don't want us to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible," he said.
Short told reporters Wednesday evening that the administration would be "comfortable" if wall funding and DACA protections ended up in different legislative packages, but stressed the wall remained a priority.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added that Trump was "committed to the wall. It doesn't have to be tied to DACA but its important and he will get it done."
Kurt Schrader, D-Ore, another lawmaker who attended the meeting Wednesday, said the president "thought it was very important to protect these kids. He made that big pitch," but also seemed to acknowledge the political calculations involved.
"He'll get no Democrats, no Blue Dogs, nobody if he puts the wall in, and it would appear he understands that at this point in time," said Schrader.
The president also asked Democrats to work with Senate Republicans on legislation that would transform the legal immigration system and-dramatically decrease the number of immigrants allowed in the country, several lawmakers said.
But longtime immigrant advocate Rep Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a Democrat, said he remains skeptical, especially given Trump's unpredictability.
"Most of his friends who helped him get elected, he's fired them," Gutierrez said. "If all the Dreamers were his sons- and daughters-in-law I'd feel OK, but they're not related to the man, so forgive me for being a little cynical still about how we move forward."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday during an AP Newsmaker interview that deporting the so-called "Dreamers" was "not in our nation's interest," and said the president had "made the right call."
"I wanted him to give us time. I didn't want this to be rescinded on Day One and create chaos," Ryan said, arguing the time would allow Congress to "come up with the right kind of consensus and compromise to fix this problem."