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Will Trump-backed DACA deal include a path to citizenship?

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

WASHINGTON — President Trump again sent shockwaves through his own party when Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi announced late Wednesday night they had reached an agreement with him over dinner to “enshrine” protections for young unauthorized immigrants.

But in the light of day Thursday, it quickly became less clear what exactly that deal was. Trump denied there was an agreement at all on Twitter, and Democrats and the president seemed to disagree on the fundamental issue of whether any eventual bill would include a path to citizenship.

Earlier this month, the president ended the Obama-era DACA program, which protected from deportation 800,000 unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have no criminal record. He urged Congress to take action to protect the group, and signaled he would not insist that funding for his long-promised border wall be attached to the measure.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday she believes the president understands that Congress must pass the DREAM Act, which provides a lengthy path to citizenship for the young immigrants who join the military, pursue higher education or are employed.

But Trump told reporters after landing in Florida to tour the hurricane-battered state that he was not interested in any bill that provides citizenship to the group.

“We’re not looking at citizenship,” Trump said. “We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

Pelosi pushed back on this. “That’s what the bill is — it’s an earned path to citizenship,” she said.

Immigrants and supporters on Sept. 10 chant during a “We Rise for the Dream” rally on the Las Vegas Strip to oppose President Trump’s order to end DACA. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It’s unclear if the difference is simply a semantic misunderstanding or a more fundamental policy divide.

The Democratic minority leader said Trump doesn’t like the name “DREAM Act.”

“The president likes to call it DACA,” she said.

And a White House spokesman told CNN the deal could include a “responsible path” to citizenship.

But it’s also possible that Trump prefers that Congress codify the DACA program he ended by simply allowing the young immigrants to apply for temporary renewable status that never offers the possibility of citizenship.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and an ally of the president, said a path to citizenship would not sit well with most House Republicans.

“I think [citizenship is] a problem for the majority of the Republican conference, but I don’t want to negotiate the legislation, since a lot of those conversations have just started in earnest within the last few days,” Meadows told Yahoo News. “Let’s not put too much emphasis on a one-time meeting.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answers questions during her weekly press conference at the Capitol Sept. 14. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., insisted that no deal had been made or formal negotiations conducted between the president and Democrats. He reminded the president he would need Ryan and his Republican caucus to pass anything.

“I think the president understands he’s going to have to work with congressional majorities to get any legislative solution,” Ryan said.

What is clear is that Trump is satisfied with attaching significant non-wall border security funding to the bill, and will not demand cutting legal immigration levels as part of the package, though he will push that later, Pelosi said.

Last week, Trump cut a surprise deal with Schumer and Pelosi, over Republican objections, to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling for just three months. On Wednesday, Trump met with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and told members he wanted to try passing bills with the support of both parties, according to one attendee. “Let’s see if this works,” Trump told the group, according to Rep. Josh Gottheimer, R-N.J.

The president is aware he must build some trust with wary Democrats if he wants them to work with him, Pelosi said.

“We needed to establish some trust and confidence going forward, and one path of establishing that trust is the DREAM Act,” Pelosi said.

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