President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to support a comprehensive immigration reform bill but then backed away from the idea during a bipartisan meeting with senators.
During a publicly televised conversation with lawmakers, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Trump whether he would support a “clean DACA bill now with a commitment that we go into into a comprehensive immigration reform procedure,” alluding to previous iterations of immigration legislation that offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
The meeting comes ahead of the government’s spending bill deadline of January 19.
DACA — an acronym referring to the Obama-era directive known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — granted temporary work authorization and deportation relief in two-year increments for certain undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. The Trump administration dissolved the program in September, granting one final two-year extension for people whose DACA permits expire by March 5, 2018. During this six-month period, the Trump administration called on Congress to pass permanent legislation. Democrats have suggested they would risk a government shutdown if spending bills do not include a measure that helps the nearly 800,000 DACA beneficiary population.
“I have no problem,” Trump said in response to a question about supporting a clean DACA bill, while Republican lawmakers looked on. “I think that’s basically what Dick [Durbin (D-IL)] said. We’re going to come up with DACA and then we’ll start immediately on comprehensive- I think a lot of people would like to see that.”
But over the course of the meeting, Trump changed his mind. He told the roundtable that he would only support immigration legislation if it included funding for a border wall, a campaign promise that he long has said would help with keep out border crossers and “bad hombres.”
“We can do a great wall–you need the wall,” Trump said after a question from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on whether a border wall was a precondition for any DACA fix. “And now I’m getting involved. I’d like to build under budget, ahead of schedule.”
“A clean DACA bill to me is to take care of the 800,000 people,” he added. “We take care of that, and we also take care of security. And then we can go to comprehensive (immigration reform) later on.”
After the meeting ended, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the publication Axios that he supported a DACA bill separate from the must-pass spending bill, a Democratic precondition that could threaten a government shutdown.