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Trump to House GOP: Send me an immigration bill

President Donald Trump told House Republicans to send him an immigration bill dealing with Dreamers and migrant families being separated at the border in a freewheeling address Tuesday — giving GOP leadership what it hopes was the green light it needed to pass legislation that’s infuriated the far right.

Trump told the GOP Conference during a closed-door meeting that he would accept either of two competing immigration bills slated for a vote this week. Many Republicans said they interpreted his words as support for a measure negotiated among GOP leaders, moderate Republicans and conservatives. Leaders were to whip votes for the carefully crafted package on Tuesday night.

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“I’m with you 100 percent!” Trump told them, later adding, “I will not leave you in the wilderness.”

Trump also said that his daughter Ivanka Trump had approached him about his policy of splitting kids from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, telling him the images did not look good. He encouraged Republicans to pass a package that includes a fix that keeps families together — even though he could stop the practice at any moment.

“We have to take care of these separations,” he said, as recounted by one source in the room.

But Trump also never indicated that he would back down on the issue, even as he’s come under rising pressure, including from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

That means the policy is likely to continue until Congress puts an end to it — an uncertain outcome, as Republicans already face an uphill battle passing their bill in the House, let alone past the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

While Trump’s words were open to interpretation — and some Republicans disagreed as they left the meeting about what exactly he wanted — GOP leaders are satisfied for now with his message in support of their legislation.

As recently as this past weekend, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise had said he would not whip a GOP bill that didn’t have the president’s backing, but Scalise seemed to think Trump had given them the thumbs-up to forge ahead.

“We’re sure going to be pushing this bill to the president’s desk because he wants this bill and is going to sign it,” the Louisiana Republican said of the so-called compromise package.

It is unclear, however, whether Trump’s words will be enough — especially considering he previously panned the proposal. Conservatives are wary of backing a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, something they’ve long considered “amnesty.” Still, GOP leaders think the measure could be close to passage with Trump’s support. The other, more conservative bill is almost certain to fail because moderate Republicans don’t believe it includes a bridge to the legal system.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Trump may have given some cover for wavering Republicans to back the leadership’s compromise proposal, but he still wouldn’t predict whether it passes.

“I think he was supportive of the compromise bill,” Meadows said of Trump. “He said he was behind it 1,000 percent. And whether that meant he was behind the compromise bill 1,000 percent, or whether he was behind whatever we can pass, either or, you can see it both ways. … I think he supports the compromise bill.”

“I think it gives some members, certainly, cover to vote for a bill that might be a little bit of gut check,” Meadows added. “There’s not a whole lot of room for error.”

Interactives Graphic

Before delving into immigration, Trump quickly hit on a variety of policy topics, according to GOP sources. He started the conference meeting telling Republicans to essentially chill out about the tariffs he’d slapped on foreign countries, telling a party of free-traders that it’s worth it.

“It’s gonna work out fine,” he said. “Trade isn’t tricky.”

Trump also talked up the GOP’s successes since he took the White House: boosting military spending, passing legislation on opioids and tax cuts, as well as his talks with North Korea. He said they were doing so much winning.

At one point, Trump knocked South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, a longtime Trump critic who just lost his primary to a more Trump-friendly Republican.

“Is Mark Sanford here?” he asked as the room grew quiet. “I want to congratulate him on his race.”

A Microsoft store is pictured. | Getty

When Trump called Sanford a “nasty” guy, the room moaned in disbelief.

While discussing immigration, Trump went through a list of must-haves, including his wall with Mexico. He said he also backed a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and told Republicans they have to pass something.

He also sought to assure conservatives that he would not double-cross them on the bill. Members of the far right have been wary of supporting the “compromise” bill for fear that Trump will turn on them like he did on a massive spending bill they passed earlier this year.

“I am behind you so much,” he said, later adding, “I am with you all the way” and “I love you people.”

The bill includes $ 25 billion for the border wall with Mexico, and Trump multiple times praised a trigger mechanism in the bill that would stop the Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship should any of that money be rescinded.

Trump praised Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who came up with the idea, joking that “I like him more than his brother.” Trump got into a contentious fight with Diaz-Balart’s brother, José, a Telemundo journalist, during the 2016 campaign, telling him to stop talking and “you’re finished.”

Still, Trump seemed OK with the more conservative immigration bill initially pushed by the far right. That could lead conservatives to take his blessing on their bill and then vote against the “compromise” measure.

“I’m always exhausted after I listen to [Trump],” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). “I believe he wants a bill to pass. I believe he advocated for the compromise bill. But I believe he wants something to pass. And that’s the most important thing.”

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