WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was close to a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on protections for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, a development that alarmed some of his conservative supporters.
Trump, who met with the top Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, at the White House on Wednesday evening, said any final agreement must include significant measures to protect border security.
The Republican president added that funding for his planned wall along the U.S.-Mexican border - a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign - would “come later” and would not be part of any final deal on the fate of the 800,000 so-called Dreamers. But, speaking to reporters, he said Democrats “cannot obstruct the wall.”
“We have to have an understanding that whether it’s in the budget or some other vehicle in a very short period of time, the wall will be funded. Otherwise, we’re not doing anything,” Trump said as he landed in Florida to survey hurricane damage.
Schumer and Pelosi reiterated their opposition to the wall, and Democrats in the past have promised to block funding for it.
“I think we’re fairly close but we have to get massive border security,” Trump told reporters earlier in the day of a potential deal.
Trump also said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were both “on board” with the potential deal on immigration issues and that “we’re doing it in conjunction with the Republicans.”
The potential agreement was the latest development in the president’s newfound willingness to work with Democrats after his fellow Republicans, who control Congress, failed to deliver legislative victories on healthcare and other matters.
Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this month but made that effective in March, giving lawmakers six months to come up with an alternative for the Dreamers. DACA, created by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, shields the Dreamers, mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides work permits.
Trump faced a quick backlash from his hard-line conservative political base over his potential deal on DACA.
He had promised as a candidate to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and said a wall would be built to stop the flow from Mexico of illegal immigrants and drugs.
“It looks to me like he’s preparing to keep Hillary Clinton’s campaign promise rather than his own,” Republican Representative Steve King told CNN, referring to Trump’s Democratic election rival.
Breitbart News, the hard-line conservative news website headed by Trump’s former top strategist Steve Bannon, called the president “Amnesty Don” in a headline. Many conservatives oppose giving legal status or a path toward citizenship to illegal immigrants, calling such steps “amnesty” to law-breakers.
Regarding the Dreamers, Trump said he was not looking at citizenship or amnesty.
“We’re talking about taking care of people ... that have done a good job and were not brought here of their own volition,” Trump said.
Republican Senator Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Trump’s move “undercut” his panel’s work.
UNEASE IN CONSERVATIVE BASE
On another issue on which Trump has been at odds with his conservative political base, he has endorsed U.S. Senator Luther Strange in an election fight in Alabama against a hard-line conservative Republican.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told MSNBC of the agreement on DACA, “There’s a deal on the table.”
Schumer and Pelosi said they agreed with Trump that he would “support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act.”
“What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible. While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it,” they said.
There also was disagreement between Trump and the Democrats on a possible path to citizenship for the Dreamers.
“When we’re talking about this legislation to protect the Dreamers, yes, I do trust that the president is sincere in understanding that the public supports that overwhelmingly, the public supports not sending these young people back,” Pelosi told reporters.
Trump has previously appeared conflicted over the fate of the Dreamers and on Thursday he indicated he did not want them deported.
“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump wrote in one of a series of posts on Twitter.
The potential deal on DACA comes after Trump stunned Republican leaders last week by reaching an agreement with Schumer and Pelosi to fund the government and raise the U.S. debt ceiling through mid-December.