Pelosi, Schumer lay out demands in White House talks over spending bill
Updated 1:37 am, Friday, December 8, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump projected an air of comity Thursday as he resumed budget negotiations with Republican leaders and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and her Senate counterpart Chuck Schumer of New York, but the two sides remained far apart in their hardball talks over what to include in a long-term spending bill that would keep the government open.
Before the White House meeting, Pelosi restated Democrats’ position that protection for young immigrants brought into the country — or who entered on their own — illegally as children must be resolved before Congress leaves for the year this month.
“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” Pelosi told reporters, referring to the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Trump terminated on Sept. 5, giving Congress six months to come up with a new plan for those immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
In a statement after the meeting, the White House laid out Trump’s demands, that any immigration legislation “ends chain migration, constructs a border wall, and substantially strengthens immigration enforcement to stop illegal immigration and visa overstays.”
Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans on Thursday were able to pass a two-week stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight Friday.
At the White House, Pelosi and Schumer laid out a list of Democrat demands for the longer-term spending bill that must pass before Congress leaves for the holidays on Dec. 22. Aside from protecting the nearly 800,000 Dreamers, the Democrats also want higher domestic spending that keeps pace with the higher military spending that Republicans want, disaster aid, veterans and opioid funding, and other items.
The White House, by contrast, emphasized only its desire for more military spending, “to deal with the grave national security threats we face,” and said nothing about higher domestic spending. The White House also said Republicans had agreed that any immigration bill should be separate from a spending bill.
The meeting also included House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We’re all here as a very friendly, well-unified group,” Trump said.
The two Democratic leaders had refused to join similar talks with Trump and GOP leaders last week after Trump tweeted that he did not expect the negotiations to bear fruit. But in a joint statement after Thursday’s meeting, they said they had “a productive conversation on a wide variety of issues.”
“Nothing specific has been agreed to, but discussions continue,” the statement said.
Pelosi and Schumer have enormous leverage in the spending talks. Republicans control both chambers of Congress but have only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and they will need 60 votes to pass a bill. That means at least eight Democrats will have to be on board.
Any solution for the Dreamers will have to navigate a difficult path between conservative Republicans who are opposed to any legislation, and Democrats, particularly in the Hispanic Caucus, who insist that young immigrants not be held “hostage” to GOP demands for tougher immigration enforcement.
Under DACA, young immigrants who declared their immigration status to the federal government and met basic conditions, such as a background check, received temporary legal status that allowed them to work and attend college in the U.S. Some are beginning to lose their protected status now, and thousands will begin to face deportation starting March 5 unless Congress acts.
A significant bloc of Republicans who represent House districts or states with large immigrant populations — including California Reps. Jeff Denham of Turlock (Stanislaus County) and David Valadao of Hanford (Kings County) — strongly support granting the young immigrants permanent residence and the ability to apply for citizenship.
But they have insisted that some sort of border security measures must be included to get any GOP buy-in, given their party’s hostile stance to expanded immigration.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he was adamantly opposed to adding any protected status for young immigrants to the spending bill. If this group of roughly 40 conservatives bucks GOP leaders on the bill, that would allow Pelosi to drive an even harder bargain for the Democratic votes needed to keep the government open.
In the Senate, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced legislation late Wednesday that would extend temporary protection for young immigrants for just three years. But the bill would also, among other things, bolster barriers on the Mexico border and the “E-verify” program requiring employers to check employees’ immigration status, and it would reduce federal funding for sanctuary cities such as San Francisco that decline to enforce federal immigration law.
Such demands may be an opening bargaining ploy, but they appear almost designed to antagonize Democrats. Some Democrats, for their part, continued to insist that no immigration controls be included with Dreamer protections.
Trump seemed to inflame the issue himself Wednesday, blaming Democrats for any potential shutdown because “they want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country.”
Valadao said he had no idea how the Dreamer issue could end up. “It’s hard to judge any of this,” he said.