Kelly calls Dreamer protection ‘a done deal’
DACA issue complicates shutdown negotiations
Kelly stunned Congressional Hispanic Caucus members by also suggesting that Trump’s decision to protect so-called Dreamers was a “done deal” even though they have yet to work out a compromise over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the administration is ending.
“He made it very clear we’re not talking about the Trump wall of the campaign — that was campaign rhetoric,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., whose questions about the wall provoked Kelly’s response during the closed-door session. “There was an understanding the concrete wall does not make sense.”
Kelly explained to the lawmakers that “candidates say things during the campaign that are not informed,” according to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. He said a wall from “sea to shining sea” is “not what we’re doing,” according to Gutierrez.
Kelly was on Capitol Hill for a series of meetings with lawmakers ahead of Friday’s deadline to fund the government or risk a federal shutdown.
The administration is trying to broker an immigration deal as some Democrats are warning they will withhold their votes for the temporary government funding measure unless there are deportation protections for some 700,000 DACA recipients. The young immigrants, brought to the U.S. illegally as children, face deportation as their permits to work and live here will expire when Trump ends the program.
Reaching an immigration deal by Friday remains difficult, and top congressional leaders who met separately with Kelly on Wednesday said it was unlikely. Kelly also met with conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus as well as Latino Republicans.
Lawmakers walked away from the meetings uncertain on the White House’s position, according to those briefed on the sessions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s unwilling to hold immigration votes — including on a bipartisan Senate compromise reached last week — until he knows that Trump would sign the bill into law. “I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he’s not yet indicated what measure he’s willing to sign,” McConnell told reporters.
Kelly confirmed much of the closed-door conversations in a Fox News interview later Wednesday. “Campaign and governing are two very different things,” Kelly said on Fox. He said the wall would more likely be about 700 miles of barrier, rather than 2,000 miles Trump promised, and that Mexico would not directly pay for it.
The former Homeland Security secretary told the lawmakers he had been able to educate the president on the wall and was responsible for extending the original DACA deadline to March 5, even though the termination was announced in September. “That was my idea,” Kelly told the lawmakers, according to Gutierrez. “I demanded it. I made it happen. … And many people have thanked me for it.”
Now the administration has said it will keep the program running beyond March, pending resolution of a federal court challenge. Kelly also told them that Trump has already decided that DACA recipients will be protected from deportation in any deal. “They can stay. That’s done,” Kelly told them multiple times.
But lawmakers pushed back against the administration’s proposals to reduce the numbers of visas for family members, warning Kelly away from using the term “chain” migration that many in the Hispanic Caucus, in particular, find offensive.
Lawmakers also complained that the White House was moving the goal posts by introducing a new plan for limits on asylum seekers. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Kelly that was a “non-starter.”
The immigration talks come as House Republicans unveiled a stopgap measure that would keep the government running past Friday’s deadline for four more weeks, through Feb. 16. Democrats say they are likely to reject the measure without a fix for the Dreamers.
GOP leaders will try to rely on their majority to pass the bill through the House, and put pressure on Senate Democrats not to block it. Republicans hold only a narrow Senate majority and already several GOP senators — including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who brokered the bipartisan immigration compromise with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other senators — may vote against it. That means McConnell will need about a dozen Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster for passage.
“When does the minority have leverage in the Senate? When you need 60 votes,” Durbin told reporters.
Democrats in the Senate are already lining up against the stopgap funding measure because they say it tilts too heavily to GOP priorities. It would include a mix of provisions that will likely attract some votes even as they push others away. One is a reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance program for six years, which is important to Democrats. Others include a two-year repeal of Affordable Care Act taxes on medical device makers, and a tax on employees’ high-priced health benefits, the so-called Cadillac tax, that some Democrats also want to end. The GOP measure does not include disaster aid, which is important to members of both parties but has stalled in the Senate.
But even House approval was uncertain after a closed-door meeting earlier this week left rank-and-file lawmakers uneasy over punting the spending bill for the fourth time this fiscal year.
A House vote is expected today.