Inside the Tense, Profane White House Meeting on Immigration

Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, Washington Post, January 15, 2018

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin’s outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat’s efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

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The fight has left congressional leaders unsure of whether they will eventually come to an agreement. Some remain optimistic that Trump can be walked back to the political center and will cut a deal that expands border security while protecting those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump has ordered ended.

“The president is indispensable to getting a deal,” Graham said in an interview. “Time will tell.”

Last Thursday was a critical moment in the stalled negotiations, revealing the president’s priorities even as the discussion fell apart.

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At one point, Durbin told the president that members of that [Congressional Black] caucus — an influential House group — would be more likely to agree to a deal if certain countries were included in the proposed protections, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Trump was curt and dismissive, saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the CBC and did not particularly care about that bloc’s demands, according to people briefed on the meeting. “You’ve got to be joking,” one adviser said, describing Trump’s reaction.

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Graham declined to comment on the president’s reported obscenity. He has told others in his circle that commenting would only hurt the chance of a deal and that he wants to keep a relationship with the president.

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White House officials say Kelly is determined to secure a deal on dreamers and border security and has told Trump that the southwestern border is worse than it was a few years ago—and that he can be the president to change the status quo.

“Once we saw what was going on in the meeting a few days earlier, we were freaked out,” said immigration hard-liner Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies. Trump, he said, “has hawkish instincts on immigration, but they aren’t well-developed, and he hasn’t ever been through these kind of legislative fights.”

After the Thursday meeting, Trump began telling allies that the proposal was a “terrible deal for me,” according to a friend he spoke with, and that Kelly and other aides and confidants were correct in advising him to back away.

“It wasn’t a serious proposal. It was not viewed as a serious proposal because it did so little to address the immigration issues that the president has been vocal about,” said Meadows, who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “It was, if I had to put it in a 1-to-10 range, with 10 being the most conservative and 1 being the most liberal, I would give it a 2.5.”

Trump was not particularly upset by the coverage of the meeting and his vulgarity after it was first reported by The Washington Post, calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters, aides said.

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Then Friday morning, Trump appeared to suggest in a tweet that he had not used the objectionable word at all: “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”

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