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What will come from the unusual, on-camera immigration meeting?

A bipartisan group of senators and House members joined President Trump at the White House for an extraordinary, on-camera meeting to discuss various aspects of immigration policy, the focus of intensifying negotiations. Judy Woodruff gets an update on those talks from both sides of Capitol Hill from John Yang and Lisa Desjardins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We begin tonight with politics, and a striking look inside high-level talks over how to reduce and reform immigration here in the U.S.

    Today, a group of both Republican and Democratic senators and House members met with President Trump at the White House to discuss this contentious issue, including DACA, the program that shields hundreds of thousands of young undocumented people from deportation.

    For more on that meting, and what might come from it, I’m joined by our own John Yang and Lisa Desjardins.

    And thank you for being here.

    And, John, I’m going to start with you. I have been in Washington a long time. I have covered a lot of meetings. This one was different.

  • John Yang:

    Absolutely, very different.

    It was a remarkable series of events. As you know, Judy, in meetings like this, usually the press is brought in at the beginning just for a few minutes, the president speaks, and then they’re escorted out after five minutes. Not this time.

    They stayed for 50 minutes, about 55 minutes, as the lawmakers made their — laid out their bargaining positions. It all began with the president saying that, on immigration, a signature campaign issue, he’s willing to sign whatever the lawmakers come up with.

  • President Donald Trump:

     I think everyone agrees we have to have border security. I don’t think there would be anybody that says no.

    Second, it has to be a bill to end chain migration.

    So I’m appealing to everyone in the room to put the country before party, and to sit down and negotiate and to compromise, and let’s see if we can get something done. I really think that we have a chance to do it. I think it’s very important.

    You’re talking about 800,000 people.

    I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room. I know most of the people on both sides. I have a lot of respect for the people on both sides.

    And my — what I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with. I have great confidence in the people. If they come to me with things that I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it because I respect them.

  • John Yang:

    This was a real peek behind the curtain.

    We saw something we rarely see, two key lawmakers, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, both of California, proposing two very different paths forward, and each trying to get the president on the record agreeing with them.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

    What about a clean DACA bill now, with a commitment that we go in to a comprehensive immigration reform procedure?

  • President Donald Trump:

    I have no problem. I think that’s basically what Dick is saying. We’re going to come out with DACA. We’re going to do DACA. And then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive…

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

    Would you be amenable to that?

  • President Donald Trump:

    Yes, I would like to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • President Donald Trump:

    Go ahead.

    I think a lot of people would like to see that, but I think we have to do DACA first.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    Mr. President, you have to be clear, though. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACA, we don’t want to be back here two years later. You have to have security, as the secretary would tell you.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But I think that’s what she’s saying.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    I’m thinking you’re saying DACA without security. Are you talking about security as well?

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

    Well, I think if we have some meaningful comprehensive immigration reform, that’s really where the security goes.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    I don’t think that’s comprehensive. I think that’s dealing with DACA at the same time. I think that’s really what the president is making.

  • John Yang:

    This went on for nearly an hour. Reporters in the room say there was no effort by White House aides to get them to leave until the last few minutes.

    And, Judy, after this closed-door portion of the meeting, the White House issued a statement saying that they had agreed to negotiate legislation on four topics, border security, DACA, chain migration, which is the policy of allowing immigrants to bring their family members in, sometimes called family reunification, and the visa lottery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now, John, that’s what it looked like from the White House.

    Lisa, you’re at the Capitol. Was this as unusual for members of Congress as it seemed at our end?

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    Perhaps even more unusual for those members of Congress.

    They are used to, Judy — and we have this before — dog and pony shows, where members of Congress go up to the White House, and we see a little bit of conversation and exchange.

    What happened here, and this is coming from multiple senators who were there, was that there was a feeling that maybe this isn’t just a dog and pony show. And as more and more members started to act like it was an ongoing, live negotiation, more and more members took it that way.

    And in the end, Judy, what happened is, the portion that wasn’t on camera, which was also about 45 minutes, that is where the negotiation happened to agree to those four points that John was talking about.

    And one other note, Judy, that was unusual about this. We saw this, the public saw this, but Senate staffers who are used to getting the first information about these meetings, they were in the cold. They were waiting outside. They had no idea what was happening during all of this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, was something actually agreed to? We heard what John said the White House is saying.

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    Let’s talk about what exactly came out of this.

    This essentially is about a DACA fix and about how do you tailor this in a way that Republicans can get on board. So, they decided on a narrow series of four things that they want to try to agree on, again, something for — some kind of status for those dreamer kids. That’s number one.

    And then some kind of agreement on that family or chain migration, limiting it now or maybe in the future, then some kind of limit on the visa lottery program, and then, in addition, something on border security.

    Now, those are seemingly narrow topics, but, of course, the details are important. And one key detail today that the president put out there that Republicans are touting in the Senate is that he indicated that he understands that a border wall may not go the entire border and may not in fact be a wall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know there’s been conversation about the wall, about DACA on both sides. You have today’s meeting. Where does it go from here?

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    So, now the Senate bipartisan group, the Graham and Durbin group, both of those senators who were in the meeting today, is trying to meet ASAP to kind of take this momentum and move forward and try and get an actual outline or maybe a bill going in the next week-and-a-half.

    Now, that statement that John pointed to, where the president said, you guys come up with something, I will agree to it, whatever it is, senators are skeptical that in reality that that is the case. I talked to Senator Jim Lankford.

    He said, sitting a couple seats over, that he thinks actually the White House main negotiator, who is Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, is going to say what the White House wants.

    And, in fact, tonight we know they gave them a list of things they’re interested in on security. So, they have narrowed the scope, they have given themselves a chance at a deal here, but the details are still undecided.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we also know, Lisa, and you covered this for a long time, the view in the Senate among Republicans on immigration can be very different from the views in the House of Representatives on immigration.

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    And this is a key moment.

    Senator Lindsey Graham told me and a few other reporters that he thought the most important thing about this meeting was the president weighing in and saying, I am behind this effort. And he said it was important because the House members need the president to get behind this, so that they can point to their conservative voters and say, hey, this is President Trump’s idea, because, otherwise, those House conservatives do not want to pass a bill giving status to those who are undocumented right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, John, to broaden this out, all this happens in a week when the president is frankly under a lot of criticism.

    This book has come out which paints a picture of him as someone who, at best, is disengaged, doesn’t follow policy matters, gets bored when legislation is being discussed. So we look at what happened today in the context of that.

  • John Yang:

    Absolutely.

    We saw a president in the Cabinet room with these lawmakers engaged. He was calm. He was listening to all the discussion on all sides, listening to the various positions.

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at the briefing, why was the press allowed this front-row seat to the negotiating process? She said that they thought it was important the American people and the press see the cooperation and the conversation that happened in these meetings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa.

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    I was going to say, what senators say the president said did, he allowed them to negotiate with each other, members of Congress, but that he sort of forced them to bring their cards to the table with the cameras there.

    And, Judy, all this said, there really is going to be some very tricky negotiations happening. Take something like family migration. How do you limit that just a little bit in an initial bill, with the hope of having larger reform down the road?

    That is very unclear. No one is sure how exactly you do kind of a first down payment on that kind of issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this is in part what Republicans refer to as chain migration.

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    That’s right. That’s exactly right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Democrats — but bottom line is, can something — yes, it was quite a display today, but can something meaningful come from it or not?

  •  Lisa Desjardins:

    That’s the question.

    And Democrats have to make a decision, because they want to decide if they want this to be — if they want to weigh in now, or if they want to push this deadline back to March, which is when DACA recipients see their status change. Democrats feel they have leverage now, but will they wait until later, or will they push it now?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly John, it does look like the president is invested in this issue.

  • John Yang:

    This is something the president has been talking about privately behind the scenes with aides and also sort of off-the-record conversations with some reporters.

    I think that he really is looking for some sort of accomplishment. It’s going to be tough in a year with the midterm elections at the end. Usually, second sessions of Congress are not very productive. But he’s hoping that will be different this time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Great reporting from both of you.

    John Yang, Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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