A bipartisan meeting between lawmakers and President Trump at the White House Tuesday left many Democrats scratching their heads and anxious about the prospects of reaching any deal.
On the table: Relief for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, enhancing border security, and limiting diversity visas and family-based migration. Those are the rough parameters lawmakers will have when entering into more heated negotiations in the coming days.
There was some confusion about whether Democrats agreed a deal would, without a doubt, include measures on diversity visas and family-based migration, but Democrats in both chambers have long said they don’t want those immigration policies included in talks about DACA. Leaving a meeting in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office Tuesday evening, Democrats said they expect Republicans to push for limitations to those two specific elements of immigration policy, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to make it into a final deal.
A majority of Democrats want to keep the scope small, but appear willing to give Republicans more money to build up fencing, sensors, drones, and the like along the border if it means providing a pathway to citizenship for the 800,000 DACA recipients. The so-called Dreamers are already losing their protections and are at risk of detention and deportation as a result of Trump's September decision to end the program.
Top Democratic and Republican negotiators are expected to meet Wednesday to begin more substantial discussions, but Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said nothing was officially on the schedule as of Tuesday evening.
Leaving the meeting in Pelosi’s office, Durbin said Democrats have “a lot of concern” about the DACA talks.
“There’s so much uncertainty; we don’t have anything really nailed down,” he said. “People are worried about the direction because issues were raised today at this White House meeting that have people nervous.”
Those issues appeared to primarily concern the diversity visa program and family-based migration.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said including a change to the diversity visa program, would be a “non-starter” for Congressional Black Caucus members. Thompson noted that roughly 44 percent of those who benefit from the program are from African countries.
“Some tried to say there was an agreement but I think for most of [Democrats] it was the fact that all these things were put on the table,” said Thompson, who attended the meeting with Trump.
Reps. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. said she’d have “some real issues” if family-based migration and diversity visas were included in a final agreement. But she said Democrats need to know what Republicans are proposing in order to determine where they can be flexible.
“What are [Republicans] looking for, and what is acceptable to us, and you negotiate from there,” she said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. said Republicans desire to attach measures on family-based migration and diversity visas to a DACA fix was racially tinged.
“Be clear, we know what you’re going to say to your base voters: ‘We stopped the Africans from coming, we stopped those Chinese and those Latinos and those Indians from bringing in their chain migration and we’re keeping America safer,’” Gutierrez said of Republicans’ political motivations.
"When you really think about who’s getting those diversity visas, it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue we’re trying to address with DACA recipients, and we’re making that case,” said Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. echoed other Democrats leaving Pelosi’s office, saying she doesn’t agree with the GOP position. The White House meeting, Duckworth said, made it so Republicans “can’t add anything more” to their wishlist.
Though negotiations appear to be headed toward including a solution for DACA recipients in a large spending bill that would increase budget caps, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains adamant that Dreamers be handled separately. But passing an omnibus spending bill through the House is likely impossible without Democratic support, providing leverage for Democrats to push for tying any deal on DACA and border security to a spending bill.
Congress must pass a spending measure by Jan. 19 to keep the government open. Given the pace of current negotiations, lawmakers will likely pass another short-term measure to provide Congress with a little more time to reach a compromise.
Asked if Congress could strike a bargain on DACA by Jan. 19, Durbin said the window is shrinking.
“Let me tell you it’s even worse than you think,” he said. “That’s 10 days away by a generous count and four of those days were not in session.”