Originally published by Politico
President Donald Trump on Friday said he would not sign a carefully crafted GOP bill addressing the predicament of Dreamers, news that caught House Republicans by surprise and left the legislation on life support.
Ironically the proposal — the product of weeks of negotiations between centrist Republicans and conservatives — mirrored Trump's own framework to increase security, curb legal immigration and shield Dreamers from deportation. Not only that, top White House officials, including immigration hawk Stephen Miller, were working behind the scenes to whip support for the document.
Trump heard conservative criticism of the proposal on TV, according to senior Republicans, and swatted the proposal down.
“I’m looking at both of them,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” in an interview Friday morning from the White House lawn. “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.”
Trump’s words dealt a potentially fatal blow to the bill and sent GOP leader and White House scrambling to get him back on message. An hour after his remarks, senior Republicans were predicting that Trump would not only walk back his comments but fully endorse the compromise bill. His comments on TV, they said, left him enough wiggle room to say he was dissing a Democratic proposal that did not include his wall or an immigration crackdown — not the GOP DACA bill.
But as the day wore on, that statement never came, and conservatives applauded the president's position. Some senior Republicans began speculating whether they could have a vote on the bill at all if Trump didn't embrace the legislation.
"He's correctly judging the American people's opinion on this subject; we're not there yet," said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.). Asked what more he needed in the compromise bill, Perry seemed aghast: "Enforcement! Enforcement! We can't keep on having these half-measures that don't fix the problem."
To be sure, the GOP bill released Thursday was already facing an uphill battle. Democrats oppose the measure, saying it‘s too tailored to the wishes of immigration hardliners. But now Trump has given a group of conservatives who were already wary of the compromise a powerful reason to vote “no“: He simply doesn’t like it.
The comments come after Ryan and other members of the House leadership team told reporters that they’d described their bill to the president and he was “excited” about it. Ryan has stressed to reporters that he has been working "hand in glove" with the administration in writing the bill.
Indeed, senior White House policy adviser Miller came to Capitol Hill earlier this week to encourage wary conservatives fearful of backlash from the base to support the plan. And GOP leaders in meetings talked about the possibility of Trump as well as the White House helping them whip support.
“I spoke with the president yesterday about the details of the bill, and clearly Stephen Miller and others in the administration have been directly involved with the discussion we’ve been having and they like what’s in the bill,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters Thursday. “The president really likes the fact that it fully funds the wall.”
Instead, Trump has put GOP leaders in a corner where they’ll have to ask Republicans to vote against their own president to back a controversial bill on the topic that divides the party most.
That's why Scalise's whip team decided against counting votes on Friday, as they'd planned. They knew Republicans weren't going to say "yes" given Trump's recent remarks.
Many Republicans said Friday they were seeking more information.
"We're waiting for some clarification on what that really means," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "We don't know."
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who helped craft the compromise bill, said he was told that Trump "will sign it."
"I think once he has a chance to digest it, he will sign it," Diaz-Balart said, though he declined to say who told him that, and cautioned that it would have to be verified with the White House. Diaz-Balart admitted Republicans "have a big problem" if Congress backs a compromise package and he vetoes it. "We need the president to look at it, and look at in detail... But I am hoping we can get his support."
Trump's remarks are a rebuke to Ryan and his team, who’ve spent hours huddled in the speaker’s office trying to hash out an immigration bill that moderate Republicans from districts with big Latino populations and conservatives could back. Both sides have given ground in the talks: Moderates begrudgingly accepted strict enforcement measures, while conservatives for the first time were open to providing citizenship for Dreamers.
What’s more, the GOP plan reflected Trump’s own “four pillars” proposal that includes a pathway to citizenship, an end to the diversity visa lottery program, curbs on family migration and $25 billion for the border wall. It would also increase border security and interior enforcement.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) warned of this scenario as recently as Thursday, arguing that nobody speaks for the president except the president himself. And the president, he said, has not weighed in.
Meadows on Friday rejected other theories that Trump didn't know what he was talking about, arguing it is "not accurate" to say Trump was referring to a Democratic bill.
"Really right now we're trying to make sure that whatever immigration bill that gets passed deals with the DACA issue and secures the border," Meadows said. "Those conversations will continue."
The news is a huge blow to moderate Republicans who this spring forced the immigration matter to the forefront. Banding together with Democrats, they threatened to take over the floor, circumvent their own party and pass legislation to shield Dreamers from deportation — unless Republicans could agree on their own plan to address the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
That set off the intense negotiating sessions that led to the compromise bill released Thursday.
The 293-page proposal also includes a provision that would keep families together at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump administration has been under fire for a controversial policy separating migrant children, including babies, from their parents. Though his administration controls the policy, Trump has tried to blame Democrats and use it as a bargaining chip to get his border wall from progressives.
“That’s the law, and that’s what the Democrats gave us,” Trump said. “And we’re willing to change it today if they wanna get in and negotiate. But they just don’t wanna negotiate. They’re afraid of security for our country. They’re afraid of a wall.”
As for the compromise bill, he added: “I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that. We have to have the wall. We don’t have the wall, there’s no bill.”
It’s unclear whether he was aware that the House bill includes tens of billions of dollars for the wall.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.