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Durbin: ‘I stand by every word that I’ve said’ about Trump’s disparaging remarks

A bipartisan group of senators are planning to roll out an immigration bill this week that includes a DACA fix and border security funding, a top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that the so-called “Gang of Six” immigration plan he’s pushing with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others would be introduced later Wednesday or early Thursday.

The bill would extend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which protects young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children from deportation. The program is slated to expire in March unless Congress acts.

Durbin said the bill would also provide funding for border security, a top priority for President Donald Trump.

Durbin met with top Senate and House leaders from both parties Wednesday to discuss immigration, but said in the NewsHour interview that the group didn’t come any closer to hammering out a deal.

When asked if the group had made any sort of breakthrough, Durbin said, “Not really.”
“We’ve been attending and trying to move this along, but the difficulty is this is a contentious, complicated issue,” Durbin said.

Other highlights from the interview:

Durbin said the soon-to-be-introduced immigration plan includes some “painful concessions” on some issues to Mr. Trump’s stance. “We’ve gone completely to the president’s position on his request to Congress when it comes to the issue of what they call chain migration, and we call family unification.”

Durbin called on Congress to deal with DACA now, instead of trying to tackle a broader immigration proposal. “for goodness’ sakes, even the president acknowledged last week we have to save some of this discussion for another day. Right now, let’s take care of DACA.”

Durbin stood by his assertion that Trump used vulgar language to describe people from African countries in a White House meeting last week. A few Republicans are disputing Durbin’s account. Durbin said: “If there is a recording from that White House meeting, I urge the White House to release it. I stand by every word that I have said.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the battle over immigration reform.

    Earlier, I spoke with a man at the center of the fight, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's number two Democrat.

    He met with President Trump's chief of staff today, along with leaders of both parties.

    I started by asking if lawmakers were any closer to a deal. Senator Durbin gave a one-word answer.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you tell us whether there was any sort of breakthrough at all in the conversation?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Not really.

    This was the fifth meeting of this group, the first meeting or second of the principals. The staff has been meeting. And we have been attending and trying to move this along.

    But the difficulty is, this is a contentious, complicated issue. There are many aspects of it. That's why it's taken us four months in the Senate to come up with a bipartisan agreement on how to move forward. This effort, which Congressman McCarthy, whom I respect, is trying to initiate has a long way to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, as you know, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, his number two, John Cornyn, they are both now saying they don't plan to bring anything up on the Senate floor that the president won't sign.

    And that includes this bipartisan measure that you and Senator Graham have proposed. So, where do you go from here if they're not going to bring it up?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Well, this is an odd situation, isn't it?

    The president eliminates the DACA program September 5 of last year and says to Congress pass the law, make it a law of the land, and send it back to me.

    I met with the president last Tuesday in the White House. He told a group of us, 26 of us, you pass the bill and send it to me and I will sign it.

    That's what he said. And he said it on televised reporting. And here we are with a bill which has growing Republican support, and Senator McConnell has said, never mind, we're not going to take up this bill unless we get some sort of advanced approval from President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the Republicans are also saying that the DACA — that the deadline for these young people who came into this country with their parents who are now here without documentation, but for whom there needs to be some resolution, that that deadline is not until March.

    And in the meantime, there needs to be movement on a federal spending bill. So their point is, there's time to deal with immigration.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    You know, it's easy to sit here in your office in the Capitol of the United States and say, there is plenty of time, why worry, if you don't know the realities.

    And the realities are, these — 16,000 of these DACA protected young people have lost protection. But for a California court decision, which enjoined our government from prosecuting forward with them, they had no protection whatsoever. And the protection they have through the California court case could end almost immediately. It's injunctive relief.

    So they're saying — it's really, why are they worried?

    I will tell you why they're worried, because for hundreds of thousands of them, they face their deadline date, no DACA protection, and two things happen. They can be deported at any moment from the United States. And secondly, they can no longer legally work in the United States.

    So to take the attitude that this Senate, which is not well known for hard work, can't take up this issue this week is just plain wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, White House officials, including John Kelly, the chief of staff, we have heard Sarah Sanders, the spokesperson, say this, Senator Tom Cotton has said, the president is now prepared to take care of those DACA recipients, the young people who came here without documentation. He's prepared to take care of them.

    Now they're saying it's your turn, the turn of you and Senator Graham, to make concessions on other issues, like what they call chain migration, family migration, the so-called diversity lottery, on spending more for border security. In other words, they're saying the president has given that DACA recipients are going to be taken care of. What about from your side now?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Every single item you just mentioned is included in the bipartisan Senate agreement which will be introduced later today or early tomorrow morning, every single one of them.

    And those who have rejected it out of hand really haven't taken the time to take a look at it. We have acknowledged the president's list of things to do. In border security, we give, in this agreement, to the Trump administration every single penny they asked for this year for barriers and fences and walls along the border, as well as another billion dollars for electronic equipment to make our border even safer.

    So, we have gone completely to the president's position on his requests to Congress.

    When it comes to the issue of what they call chain migration and we call family unification, we have made some painful concessions there. And the diversity program, diversity visa program is virtually eliminated and changed with this proposal.

    That's why we're getting more and more Republicans who are supporting it. We're only a handful of votes, maybe even fewer, away from having the magic number of 60 supporters in the United States Senate, and still the White House and Senator McConnell say, we're not interested.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what more are they asking you for?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I don't know.

    When we have these meetings, the discussions go far afield with General Kelly. He starts talking about immigration policies when it comes to asylum seekers, policies when it comes to other aspects of immigration that are very complicated. I know. I worked on the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

    And what we have said to him is, for goodness' sakes, even the president acknowledged last week we have to save some of this discussion for another day. Right now, let's take care of DACA. Let's meet the president's basic requests. Let's do it in a bipartisan fashion.

    Judy, if we pass this — and I believe we can in the Senate — it will be the most significant bipartisan bill that we have passed in months, if not over a year. Isn't time the Senate rolls up its sleeves in this empty chamber day by day and does something significant to meet the president's challenge?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, assuming they don't come around right now, are you prepared to vote for a government spending bill if it doesn't have DACA, other immigration language in it?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Listen, Judy, I wasn't elected to shut down the government. I was elected to solve problems. I have worked on a bipartisan basis for four months to write a bill that will solve this problem.

    We have a growing number of Republican sponsors and virtually the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in support. What we have said to the Republicans in control of Congress, accept success, accept this victory, let's move this forward.

    If they fail to include it in the continuing resolution, the fourth continuing resolution this fiscal year, there are many of us who will be troubled by that and will take appropriate response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly, Senator, I want to go back to that meeting at the White House last Thursday.

    Has this truly come down to your word, Senator Graham's word against the president and others who are backing him up? Can this ever be finally cleared up one way or another?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    If there is a recording from that White House meeting, I urge the White House to release it. I stand by every word that I have said. I was accurate in my reporting on what happened in this historic meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe the meeting was recorded?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I don't know. I have no idea. But I welcome it, if there was a recording.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, Senator, I know Senator Graham has said he would like to know what happened to the president's thinking between that morning, when your meeting was set up, and then a few hours later, when you went to the White House and the president took a much harder line.

    Do you have an idea what happened?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Somebody intervened and changed the president's mind.

    When I called him at 10:00 in the morning — he invited me to call him — and said, we have a bipartisan agreement, Senator Lindsey Graham and myself, and I would like him to come to the White House and explain it to you and answer any questions. The president was very open. He said, good, we want to get this done, we don't want to slow-walk this. And he said, I will call you once the meeting takes place.

    And they turned around and invited me. So, I went to the White House with Lindsey Graham to explain the bill. And in the intervening two hours, someone — I assume the president's staff — decided to invite five members of the House who were opposed to our program and approach from the beginning.

    So, I hope that, someday, that's explained. I just don't understand what happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate minority whip, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Thanks, Judy.

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