As shutdown impasse drags on, DACA protections-for-border-wall deal resurfaces

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — As congressional leaders from both parties left the White House on Wednesday with little progress on ending the ongoing government shutdown, some lawmakers appeared ready to try to resurrect a deal that would secure billions for the construction of a border wall in exchange for protections for children of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Yahoo News on Wednesday that he’s had “dozens” of conversations with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about a potential deal.

“Compromise and finding common ground are not void from the conversations that he and I have had, as well as some of the conversations I’ve had with some of my Democratic colleagues,” Meadows said.

Though the Freedom Caucus has previously opposed extending protections from deportation for the children of undocumented immigrants, Meadows suggested he would be open to a deal to preserve such concessions in exchange for wall funding.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak to the media after meeting at the White House with President Trump on border security on Jan. 2. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Wednesday’s event at the White House was part of President Trump’s push for $5.6 billion to fund further construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Democrats have refused to provide any money to fund a wall they have described as ineffective and unnecessary.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show set to air Thursday morning, presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was adamant that her party’s measure to reopen the federal government would not include funding for a wall. “No, no,” Pelosi said. “Nothing for the wall.”

But amid the saber-rattling, other members of Congress have resurrected the idea of crafting a compromise in which border wall funding would be exchanged for protections for those immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Many of these children were previously shielded from deportation by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. However, Trump ended that program in September 2017. Since then, the future of the children covered by DACA has remained uncertain amid ongoing legal battles.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., have both said they would be willing to provide some border wall funding as part of a deal that would preserve DACA.  Graham has similarly suggested a compromise could be reached that would include border wall funding in exchange for DACA protections.

“At the end of the day, there’s a deal to be had,” Graham said on CNN last Sunday, adding, “We need to start talking again.”

Trump has rejected a proposal from Graham and Sen. Lamar Alexander R-Tenn., that would combine wall funding with protections for some of the immigrants covered by DACA.

Though he expressed openness to a compromise that included the policy, Meadows described a DACA wall funding deal as a “moot point” because Democrats have “made it very clear they’re not going to negotiate” to provide wall funding. He argued that Democratic leaders need to bend.

“The president has been consistent on wanting border security fencing, a wall, whatever you want to call it. He’s been consistent on that for the last two years and, at some point, just saying no is not a winning strategy,” Meadows said.

Potential compromises involving DACA protections in exchange for wall funding were previously offered in February 2018. At that time, Trump backed a plan that would include DACA protections along with strict curbs on legal immigration. Trump’s plan was rejected by a large bipartisan group of senators. At the same time, Trump and conservative senators opposed bipartisan plans, including one that would have provided about $25 billion for border security over a decade. Trump has been pushing for immediate border wall funding.

President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Jan. 2, 2019, in Washington. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

At a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump suggested he was also close to reaching a deal last November with Democrats to protect DACA in exchange for wall funding. However, Trump said that compromise fell apart when a federal appeals court ruled in favor of blocking Trump’s plan to end DACA.

“We had a deal pretty close to being done, and a lot of people say I backed away from that deal. I didn’t back away,” Trump said. “The minute the judge overruled the case and they allowed DACA, they didn’t talk to us — and I don’t blame them — they didn’t answer the calls.”

Fact checkers have disputed similar claims from Trump, citing his prior opposition to similar DACA compromises.

At Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Trump went on to say that he is confident he will be able to make a deal preserving DACA in exchange for wall funding if the Supreme Court takes up the case and rules in favor of his efforts to end the policy.

“If we win that case — and I say this for all to hear — we’ll easily be able to make a deal on DACA and the wall as a combination,” Trump said. “But until we win that case, they don’t really want to talk about DACA.”

While some members of Congress and the president have indicated they could be willing to end the shutdown with a DACA compromise, the prospect of any potential deal seemed far away as congressional leaders left the White House on Wednesday. Neither camp seemed willing to budge as both sides made their case to reporters waiting outside the West Wing.

House Minority Leader-designate Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of refusing to listen to a briefing on border issues from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“I was a little disappointed with, I would say, some on the other side,” McCarthy said. “Once the secretary started, [Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer interrupted her and they really didn’t want to hear it.”

McCarthy said the Democrats were focused on pushing Trump and the Republicans to support a legislative package to fund the government through Feb. 8 that Pelosi plans to pass in the House tomorrow. That legislation would resolve the shutdown temporarily, but it does not address the issue of border security funding.

“The president has been very clear it’s not the bill he would support and [Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell had said he’s not bringing anything up that’s not going to become law,” McCarthy said.

The border wall was a centerpiece of Trump’s presidential campaign, but he also promised that Mexico would pay for it. The Mexican government has been adamant that it will not fund the wall. Shortly before the congressional leaders came to the White House on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that Mexico “is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal.”

McCarthy and the other Republican leaders ignored multiple questions from reporters about how the trade deal would make Mexico pay for the wall and why taxpayer funds were needed if this was the case.

As she left the White House, Pelosi encouraged Republicans to back her legislative package. She claimed it was based on prior proposals put forth by McConnell and called it a chance for the GOP to “take yes for an answer.” Pelosi said negotiations over border security funding could then begin after the government is reopened.

“Our question to the president and to the Republicans is, why don’t you accept what you have already done to open up government?” Pelosi asked. “That enables us to have 30 days to negotiate for border security.”

Schumer accused the Republicans of trying to use a shutdown as “leverage” to help Trump deliver his promised border wall. He described it as a “temper tantrum” that would hurt those who are affected by a shutdown.

The Democratic leaders did not respond to a question from Yahoo News about whether this could be an opportunity for a DACA deal.

McCarthy said Trump invited the leaders of both parties back to the White House for a meeting on Friday. As they departed, Schumer and Pelosi ignored questions about whether they planned to attend.

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