Trump and Democrats seek common ground on DACA, frustrating Republicans
HARI SREENIVASAN: There's not a full-scale deal yet, but it looks like one's in the works.
The president talked with top Democrats last night on replacing DACA, the Obama initiative that shielded youthful migrants from deportation. That, in turn, touched off a long day of verbal maneuvering.
John Yang begins our coverage.
JOHN YANG: Leaving the White House to survey Hurricane Irma damage, President Trump said he wants to find agreement.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we are working on a plan, subject to getting massive border control. We are working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen. You have 800,000 young people brought here, no fault of their own.
JOHN YANG: Later, when he returned, Mr. Trump said even a though a border wall, a signature campaign promise, doesn't have to be in the DACA bill, it's still a requirement.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: DACA now and the wall very soon. But the wall will happen.
JOHN YANG: The president talked about the way forward on DACA over dinner Wednesday night with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. An open mic on the Senate floor captured Schumer talking about the dinner.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: He likes us. He likes me anyway.
Here's what I told him. I said, "Mr. President, you're much better off if you can sometimes step right and sometimes step right. If you have to step just in one direction, you're boxed." He gets that.
JOHN YANG: Then, speaking for public consumption, Schumer was measured in his optimism.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: There is still much to be done. We have to put meat on the bones of the agreement. Details will matter.
JOHN YANG: On Capitol Hill, the challenges to ultimately agreeing on those details were evident. Democrats focused on Mr. Trump's commitment to DACA.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: I think it was a very, very positive step for the president to commit to DACA protections without insisting on the inclusion of or even a debate about the border wall.
JOHN YANG: Republicans focused on stemming the tide of undocumented immigrants.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: If we don't fix problems we have with border security and enforcement, and we would only fix DACA, we're going to have another DACA problem a decade for now.
JOHN YANG: Reaching a final deal is also complicated by divisions among Republican lawmakers, especially in the House. After initial reports, Representative Steve King of Iowa, an immigration hard-liner, tweeted: "Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible."
But Representative Pete King of New York told the conservative Freedom Caucus: "Trump base is the American people, not a small faction of obstructionists."
Criticism from conservative commentators was brutal.
Breitbart News, run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, accused the president of caving.
And Ann Coulter tweeted: "If we're not getting a wall, I would prefer President Pence."
Administration officials say the president's recent alliances with Democrats are strictly pragmatic, an approach even some staunch opponents of illegal immigration understand.
REP. LOU BARLETTA, R-Pa.: Does he have much of a choice? If he can't get things done with the Republican Party, then he has no choice but then to sit down and talk with the Democrats.
JOHN YANG: Democrats seem eager to respond.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: There are plenty of areas to find common ground. This is one of them. And maybe on some other issues, we won't find common ground.
JOHN YANG: The contentious issue of immigration will be a big test of how much common ground is enough.
To talk more about how all this is playing on Capitol Hill, we're joined by Yamiche Alcindor of The New York Times.
Yamiche, welcome. Always good to see you and talk to you.
The president flying back on Air Force One from Florida said, "If the Republicans are unable to stick together, then I'm going to have to get a little help from Democrats."
You have been talking to Republicans all day long. How did they respond to that? What does that make them feel?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, The New York Times: Well, that common ground has really left Republicans on the Hill both confused and on the defense today.
Republicans that I talked to said that they still support the president and want to see something that has to do with border security, but even Representative Dave Brat from the House Freedom Caucus told me that he still is interested in having a wall built.
So, really, the idea that Democrats, who don't control the White House, who don't control either House of Congress, may actually be the people who are passing this legislation really has a lot of Republicans on the Hill frustrated. In interview after interview, people were telling me that they really don't understand why the president is in some ways going this direction.
But I should say that Leader McConnell might actually want this to happen, because if President Trump owns the issue of immigration, if he is the one that then becomes the point person on this issue, he will own it if anything fails, and, of course, the last two presidents, both President Bush and President Obama, tried to pass immigration legislation and both failed.
JOHN YANG: Yes, I wanted to ask you about the leaders. Speaker Ryan said he didn't know about this or wasn't briefed on this until after the president left for Florida. Leader McConnell's statement rather snippily said, I'm looking forward to seeing the legislative proposal.
How are they responding to this?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, they're understandably frustrated. Both of them are somewhat caught off-guard. This doesn't look good if Democrats are going to the White House and over Chinese food and over chocolate pie are talking to the president and making deals without Republicans in the room.
But Paul Ryan said today at his press conference, and his aides are telling The New York Times, that while the Republican leaders might be upset or even frustrated with what's going on, they're going to support the president and their members are going to have to support the president. And whatever Republicans end up putting on the floor and whatever legislation is presented will have to be legislation that is supported by the president.
And I should say that when I talked to aides for both of those leaders, they are telling me on background essentially that Republican leaders are OK again with the president playing point, if he ends up owning this, because, if it fails, then it's his problem.
So, in some ways, it's a double-edged sword. Republicans don't want the look as if they're not part of the deal, as if they're not at the table when all these decisions are being made, but they also now understand that they are protecting themselves if for some reason this falls through.
JOHN YANG: We have less than a minute left. Are there any Democrats who have reservations about this?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Yes, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Asian-Pacific American Caucus all met today.
And the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have a lot of reservation, because they're fearful that they're going to have to vote for something that might enhance border security measures, and as a result hurt the parents of dreamers.
I talked to the chairwoman of the caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, today, and she told me that she would be OK with having two separate bills, one that deals specifically with the DREAM Act, and another one that deals with border security. And I'm told by aides that would be the case, because they would want their members to be able to vote for the DREAM Act, while also not being able to vote for the border security measure.
JOHN YANG: Yamiche Alcindor of The New York Times, thanks so much.