GOP senators who dined with Donald Trump at the White House said Tuesday the president denied making a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to protect immigrants brought here illegally as kids.
Pelosi and Schumer had trumpeted an agreement with the president after emerging from their own White House dinner last month, saying that he had agreed to codify existing protections for so-called Dreamers, and even to a broader legislative solution. Trump announced last month he was ending the Obama-era program protecting the immigrants from deportation, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and giving Congress six months to come up with a fix.
The claims from Pelosi and Schumer were contested at the time by Republican leaders who insisted the White House had told them there was no deal. And Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who was part of a small GOP lawmaker dinner at the White House Monday night, said the president and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly repeated the assurance to them in person.
"There's no deal. President Trump said there's no deal. John Kelly, who attended that dinner, said there's no deal," Cotton said. "So there has to be a negotiation that occurs, in the House, in the Senate."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, another attendee Monday night, said "no decisions" had been made, and the White House would be sending legislative principles to the Hill as soon as this week, something that White House officials have been promising since last month.
For his part, Schumer disputed the Republicans' assertions. "If the president is changing his view, he should tell us," Schumer told reporters.
The back-and-forth came as senators convened their first hearing on the topic since Trump announced last month he was winding down DACA, which Republicans have long denounced as an unconstitutional overreach by President Barack Obama.
Trump himself has suggested he could revisit the issue if Congress doesn't come up with a solution by March. But administration officials at the Senate Judiciary Hearing on Tuesday said that immigrants' temporary work permits would begin to expire absent congressional action by early March, and they would become subject to deportation.
The fates of some 800,000 immigrants, many brought illegally to this country as infants, hang in the balance. Dozens were present Tuesday for the hearing, where senators of both parties pledged to work toward a solution even while partisan divisions that could complicate any resolution were on stark display.
Michael Dougherty, an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, testified that Trump would like Congress to find a solution allowing the young immigrants to remain legally in the United States.
"They are a benefit to this country," Dougherty testified. "They are a valuable contribution to our society."
"Under a rational bill these individuals would be allowed to become lawful permanent residents," Dougherty said.
Cotton said Trump made clear that any solution would apply only to the current population of around 800,000 DACA recipients, not to broader groups of young immigrants like Democrats want to see protected through legislation like the DREAM Act or even narrower GOP bills. And Cotton also said the president made his opposition clear to so-called "chain migration" that allows citizens to help relatives naturalize not just their spouses and kids but also parents and siblings.
"The president feels very strongly about chain migration," Cotton said.
Republicans insisted at Tuesday's hearing that any solution for Dreamers would need to be accompanied by stronger border security and enforcement measures. But Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley specified that he didn't mean a "wall." Trump himself has suggested that his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, which is supposed to be paid for by Mexico, can be addressed separately from a solution for DACA.
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