Trump, Ryan offer differing timelines on legislation to protect 'Dreamers'

Washington Post

President Donald Trump told lawmakers that he expects Congress to act "real soon" on legislation to protect immigrant "dreamers," but House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said it could be "weeks" before the issue is resolved.

The latest disconnect between senior Republicans and the president came as Trump is hosting Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for dinner Wednesday to discuss immigration issues and health care.

The meeting will be the third time in two weeks that Trump has invited key Democrats to the White House to discuss major legislative priorities that have divided congressional Republicans. Pelosi and Schumer used their last White House meeting to persuade Trump to agree to their terms on spending levels and the debt limit, but Democrats have been cautious to avoid appearing too close to the president.

This time, aides said, they are likely to focus especially on passage of the Dream Act, a bill to provide permanent legal protections to the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era executive action that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Trump announced last month that the program will end in March and called on Congress to enact a permanent fix to the issue of "Dreamers."

Ahead of his meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump told a bipartisan group of House lawmakers during a White House meeting that he wants to resolve the DACA issue "real soon," according to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who attended.

Cuellar said he told Trump the Dream Act has sufficient bipartisan support to pass and that the White House should be pushing for a vote.

Trump, Cuellar said, told the group: "Oh, it will be on the floor."

Cuellar acknowledged that Trump has made promises in the past that didn't pan out, "but at least it's good to have him saying he wants to have a bill on the floor."

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who also attended the meeting, added that Trump "did not make any direct linkage between helping the dreamers and other issues that are in dispute on immigration."

Pelosi and Schumer view the Wednesday meeting as a follow-up to last week's discussion, and they plan to use the opportunity to press Trump on DACA and urge him to take steps to stabilize health-care markets, according to aides. Democrats are seeking a commitment from Trump on federal subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. They want assurances that the federal government will continue making cost-sharing payments to insurance companies to reduce out-of-pocket co-pays and deductibles for low-income people insured under the ACA.

"There are lots of things that we can do that can improve things that he seems open to," Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

The dinner will come just after Pelosi met with Ryan and other House leaders to discuss the same legislation. The meeting included House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and the leaders of the congressional Asian, Black and Hispanic caucuses.

"It was a good meeting. We understand each other," Pelosi told reporters as she exited the meeting.

Aides said that attendees agreed not to divulge details of the meeting, which lasted less than 30 minutes.

AshLee Strong, Ryan's spokeswoman, said that regarding the plight of the dreamers, the speaker "reiterated that any solution needs to address border security and enforcement, which are the root causes of the problem. Discussions among the Republican conference will continue in the coming weeks."

Some liberal factions of the Democratic Party complained after last week's meeting that Pelosi and Schumer focused on an agreement to increase the federal borrowing limit and extend current spending levels through December but did not seek concessions on immigration.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., a key advocate of pro-immigration reform, said Tuesday that he was upset to see Democrats "celebrating a deal with the president of the United States" that didn't include relief for dreamers.

Speaking at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event, Gutiérrez noted that Ryan last week was unable to pass a $15.25 billion spending plan that included hurricane relief money for Texas without significant Democratic support.

"You cannot approve the budget, raise the debt ceiling, do anything without the cooperation and the consent of the Democratic Party," Gutiérrez said, adding that he has told fellow Democrats, "If there isn't unity and there isn't a solution for those ... dreamers, then we won't open the government — we'll close it."

"You have to draw a very clear, concise line for everyone," he said.

Schumer and Pelosi have not yet threatened to hold up federal government operations over the fate of dreamers, instead insisting that the issue will be resolved by early March, when the program is set to expire.

Pelosi has defended the decision to work with Trump on spending and the debt limit as an opportunity to gain leverage in future discussions, including on immigration.

"I make no apology for doing that with the person who is going to sign the bill," Pelosi said in an interview last week. "It gives you great leverage."

The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis and David Nakamura contributed to this report.

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