President Trump or senior White House officials are slated to meet at least twice with GOP congressional leaders next week as Republican lawmakers prepare to return to Washington amid uncertainty about which of the big-ticket items on their legislative agenda they will prioritize first.
Leaders from both parties will sit down with White House chief of staff John Kelly on Wednesday at the Capitol to hammer out a deal on spending caps ahead of a Jan. 19 deadline to avert a government shutdown, a congressional aide told the Washington Examiner.
Trump will then meet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at Camp David next weekend, where the three will huddle over legislative priorities for the new year.
Beyond the immediate need to fund the government past mid-January, the next focus of congressional leaders appears less clear. The White House, Ryan, and McConnell have each expressed interest in pursuing different policies in the new year as Republicans continue to ride high on the successful passage of their tax reform bill earlier this month.
Immigration is likely to become a dominant topic of discussion in the early weeks of 2018. Lawmakers only have three months to hammer out an immigration deal that preserves protections for undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally as children by their parents. These so-called “Dreamers” presently enjoy protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has vowed to wind down by March.
“With the DACA deadline pushed to March, I don’t expect much movement now. Ryan will likely raise it as something they need to start negotiating, since Dem[ocratic] votes will be needed to get it out of the House,” said Sean Noble, a Republican strategist. “But nothing is going to happen until March. What good are deadlines if you can’t push right up against them!”
But other Republicans think the early spring deadline for passing immigration reform will force Congress to take up the hot-button issue before the other options on their legislative menu.
“They need to fix the broken immigration system first, then stabilize the health exchanges, then they can move on to whatever is next. Probably an infrastructure bill,” said John Feehery, a GOP strategist.
Trump hinted on Friday that the upcoming DACA debate will also include a fight over his promised border wall. Many Republicans believe legislation that extends protection for undocumented immigrants presently protected under the program represents Trump’s best opportunity to secure funding for the controversial wall.
“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc,” Trump tweeted Friday morning. “We must protect our Country at all cost!”
Trump said this week that he also hopes to tackle infrastructure and healthcare reform in a bipartisan manner over the next year.
“I actually think we can get as many Democrat votes as we have Republican,” Trump told the New York Times in an interview this week, referring to an infrastructure package.
“I want to do a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, at least,” Trump said.
The president said he hoped to see Democrats come to the table to negotiate on the major policies he hoped to shepherd through Congress next year. Democrats declined to work with Republicans on virtually all pieces of legislation in 2017.
“We can make a great health care plan through bipartisanship. We can do a great infrastructure plan through bipartisanship. And we can do on immigration, and DACA in particular, we can do something that’s terrific through bipartisanship,” Trump said this week.
Ryan, however, has signaled a greater interest in exploring welfare reform heading into 2018.
A senior congressional aide told the Washington Examiner that welfare reform is likely to be a major topic of discussion during Trump’s summit at Camp David.
Ryan said earlier this month that he has worked to convince Trump of the need to reform entitlement programs like Medicare despite Trump’s campaign-era promise not to touch the social safety net.
“He has not shown as much interest, and so we’re working with the president on the entitlements that he wants to reform that he’s supportive of,” Ryan said during a radio interview on Dec. 6.
“Frankly, it’s the healthcare entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more of our time on the healthcare entitlements,” Ryan added. “So that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Ryan told radio host Ross Kaminsky that he believed his efforts to persuade Trump to back Medicare reform efforts had begun to take effect.
“This has been my big thing for many, many years,” Ryan said of Medicare. “I think it’s the biggest entitlement that’s got to have reform.”
McConnell, for his part, has warned that welfare reform has little chance of surviving the Senate, which will soon have one fewer Republican when Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones of Alabama is seated Wednesday.