- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Democratic leaders emerged from a dinner meeting Wednesday night with President Trump to say they had worked out a deal to grant permanent protections to young illegal immigrants — without having to accept funding for the president’s proposed border wall.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Mr. Trump agreed to move quickly on a bill that would “enshrine” the protections of the Obama-era DACA program — a tentative deportation amnesty — into law.

The White House, in its own statement, said the dinner covered DACA, but it did not mention a final deal. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter after the Schumer-Pelosi statement to deny that the border wall, a key promise from Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, was sacrificed.

“While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she wrote on her Twitter account.

Nevertheless, the Democrats said otherwise.

“We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President,” Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi said in a joint statement after the dinner. “The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump says no DACA deal yet, doubles down on border wall

They did not say what the border security package would include, though Mrs. Pelosi last week said it could mean more drug interdiction efforts by the Coast Guard.

It’s also not clear what the DACA-like protections would mean. Democrats say it should include a full pathway to citizenship, while some Republicans counter that it should mean a legal status short of citizenship.

The deal, if it comes to fruition, would be the second major bargain Mr. Trump has cut directly with the two Democratic leaders, undercutting the negotiating position of his own party’s leaders in Congress.

Last week, he agreed to a large debt and spending bill that deepened the federal debt and sped relief money to victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, adding the $15 billion price tag to this year’s deepening deficit.

Mr. Trump later reportedly raved to the Democratic leaders about the good press they got for striking a bargain — a noted change from the poor news coverage the president has received for working with Republicans early in his administration.

But a deal on the Dreamers, without concrete immigration enforcement steps, could be a tougher sell for the president’s party.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump’s deal with Democrats upsets Republicans

Mr. Trump last week announced he was phasing out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the legally questionable amnesty that President Obama announced in 2012. DACA protects from deportation nearly 700,000 young adult illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents.

The president said he doubted the program could be defended in court, and he said it was up to Congress to figure out a legislative solution that could withstand scrutiny. He set a six-month phaseout to allow enough time to pass a replacement program.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer called him “cowardly” and “brainless” for the move — yet now seem to have found a willing partner on the issue and are poised to strike a win that eluded them when Mr. Obama was in the White House.

The White House said the dinner meeting involved Mr. Schumer, Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Trump and other administration officials, and called it constructive.

“These topics included tax reform, border security, DACA, infrastructure and trade. This is a positive step toward the president’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans,” the White House said — though it didn’t mention any final deals. “The administration looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle.”

Hours before the dinner, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said any deal on DACA had to include serious immigration enforcement measures that would help stop a flow of illegal immigrants.

“DACA is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is we do not have control of our borders. So while we deal with DACA … we also have to deal with the problem in the first place: securing our borders,” he said. “We’re going to start engaging these conversations with all of our members, all across the Capitol.”

A deal between Mr. Trump and the Democrats could undercut those conversations, though.

Democrats, who have supported stiff border security including hundreds of miles of fencing in the past, have flip-flopped on the issue with Mr. Trump in office and now say they won’t approve a dime for the wall.

Instead of stopping illegal immigration, Mrs. Pelosi last week cast border security as an anti-drug-smuggling effort and said that was the direction of her conversations with Mr. Trump.

“He was talking about drugs coming into the country, and the biggest protector, for us, and that has been the Coast Guard. They have been the biggest interdictor of drugs coming into our country. But it does not include a wall, no,” she said.

The White House signaled Tuesday that it would accept a DACA deal without needing to have border wall funding. But Marc Short, the president’s top liaison to Congress, said they expect to get wall funding in another bill.

The next likely chance would be in the 2018 spending bills, which are now due in December. The House is poised this week to pass a bill that includes $1.6 billion for three initial legs of the Trump border wall, but that will be a tough sell in the Senate, where Democrats have more than enough votes to filibuster.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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