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GOP balks as White House floats new Dreamers deal

The proposal would drastically scale back President Donald Trump’s most recent demands on immigration. He had asked for $ 25 billion in border wall funding as well as a steep reduction in legal immigration. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The proposal would extend protections for young immigrants facing deportation for several years in exchange for wall funding.

Updated

If President Donald Trump wants to win some border wall money next week, he’s going to have to overcome skepticism within his own party.

Trump is floating a short-term deal protecting some young immigrants facing deportation in exchange for border wall funding in next week’s government spending bill, according to two people familiar with the discussions. But the effort lacks support among congressional Republicans. And the Trump administration is already backing away from the effort.

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“I don’t get the sense it’s getting serious traction,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who said there was no talk of it during a party meeting on Wednesday.

In fact, conservative House Republicans said that such a move could threaten House Speaker Paul Ryan’s standing among the party’s right flank. Ryan is under pressure to pass a conservative immigration bill written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), not punt.

“It would jeopardize the stability of leadership,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner. “Forcing amnesty into a must-pass bill? That’s beyond the toleration level [of] conservatives in this conference.”

White House officials told Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders that Trump would be open to an immigration trade-off as part of a massive, must-pass spending bill funding the government through September. It would include several years of funding for a border wall in exchange for temporary protections for Dreamers.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) confirmed “there’s been a lot of talk” about an immigration compromise in the omnibus spending bill, and said he’d support it. But top GOP leaders were far more cagey, and multiple Republican sources said only a prominent push by Trump could deliver it in the spending bill.

“I’d be open,” said John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 GOP senator. But, he added, “I suspect at this point it’s a pretty heavy lift.”

As the White House’s trial balloon deflated on Wednesday, the administration sought some distance from addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program over the next week. In a statement, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the administration opposes a deal providing three years of wall funding in exchange for three years of DACA protections, which was first reported by The Washington Post. Instead, Shah said, the White House expects wall money regardless of the fate of DACA.

“The White House has never stopped negotiating an immigration package,” Shah later told reporters, according to a pool report. “If there were a deal cut and that could be added to the omnibus, we would welcome that.”

Still, a White House official confirmed that there are talks underway on trading DACA protections for border wall money, though there is no concrete proposal.

Attaching such a deal to a government funding bill slated for passage next week could prove tricky at this late stage. For one, there is no longer a deadline on DACA since the Obama-era program is mired in the courts. So Republican lawmakers might feel little impetus to compromise, particularly as they eye losing their congressional majorities.

“Why would we punt this to three years when we potentially have a different Congress?” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “I see no rationale for us to do this.”

Signs endorsing a House candidate are pictured. | AP Photo

More important, Congress is on a tight schedule. The government runs out of money on March 23, leaving lawmakers little time to hash out a deal on one of the most controversial issues of this Congress.

“I don’t think this is going to be the resolution of the DACA issue,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I just don’t see the DACA issue being resolved in the next week.”

Indeed, some Republicans worry the late push from the White House could set back weeks of work on the omnibus package. Work on the spending bill is nearing conclusion, and a late effort to inject a fight over immigration could topple the bill, they fear.

“Riders always are dangerous this time of the year,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who will likely take over as Appropriations chairman next month.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to comment on whether Democrats would go along with providing money for a border wall. Democrats have been reluctant to go there without a permanent solution for Dreamers.

Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) did not rule out a potential compromise but said Trump is “totally unreliable” and couldn’t be trusted to follow through.

In a bit of irony, Trump’s latest approach largely mirrors an idea from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a Trump rival, who wants to extend DACA protections for three years in exchange for three years of wall funding. Flake said House and Senate Republicans could fall in line if Trump takes the lead.

“That seems to be the best formula out there,” Flake said. “If he goes for it, I think a lot of them will be for it.”

The U.S. Capitol as seen on October 25, 2016. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Flake chuckled when asked whether he’d speak to Trump about it. He said he will call Vice President Mike Pence.

Any short-term DACA package would dramatically scale back the White House’s most recent demands on immigration. In exchange for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as children, Trump had asked for $ 25 billion in border wall funding as well as a steep reduction in legal immigration.

Such a deal would mean Trump relinquishes his demand for an end to the visa diversity lottery program as well as so-called family unification policies that allow immigrants to bring their relatives to the U.S.

Democrats would also lose out on their No. 1 request: a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. Such a plan would merely set back the timer several years, though it would allow Democrats to do an immigration bill on better terms if they take back the House or defeated Trump in 2020.

“You never rule out anything until you see it. But you need a long-term fix,” said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a centrist Democrat.

Matthew Nussbaum and Elana Schor contributed to this report.

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