President Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he wants a bill to allow young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally to remain, saying such a measure should be "a bipartisan bill of love," and that "we can do it."
Trump also said he was open to a larger measure overhauling immigration laws, but that it made most sense to first settle the Obama-era Deferred Action On Childhood Arrivals issue, also known as DACA. Authority allowing for the so-called DREAMers covered by the measure to remain in the country expires March 5.
The president met with lawmakers for nearly an hour, and the session was unusual in that a small pool of reporters was allowed to remain for the duration, an apparent effort to rebut one of the premises of the best-selling book "Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House," which portrays the president as in over his head and possibly mentally unfit for office.
Trump talked about how the current system in Congress doesn't lend itself to getting anything done. The president said there was so much anger and hostility in Congress that lawmakers should consider bringing back earmarks, the pork-barrel spending that GOP leaders outlawed, seen by many as one of the prime components of the "swamp" Trump campaigned against.
As to what sort of immigration legislation he would approve, Trump said he was reliant on lawmakers, and that even if they produced legislation he wasn't "in love with," he'd still support it. He also said he would take the heat for both Republicans and Democrats if they get criticism over a compromise immigration measure, adding that his "whole life has been heat," and that to a certain extent he prefers it that way.
In remarks afterward, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, threw cold water on the idea of a standalone DACA bill, saying Democrats have "little faith" that the measure will win approval unless it is attached to a must-pass bill. Schumer wants DACA legislation attached to a spending bill needed to keep the government open.
The conservative Club for Growth immediately criticized the possibility of again allowing special-interest earmarks.
"If Republicans bring back earmarks, then it virtually guarantees that they will lose the House," said the the group's president, David McIntosh. Earmarks are an issue John McCain campaigned on and against as the Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election. He largely won the argument in Washington, leading to the practice's retirement.
The president also addressed the issue of a border wall with Mexico, saying the U.S. needs one "in certain areas obviously that aren't protected by nature" and where existing fences are in bad shape and need to be fixed or rebuilt.
But Trump also said, "There are large areas where you don't need a wall."
Louis DeSipio, University of California, Irvine political scientist, said any negotiations with Trump will have to include more border security and immigration enforcement.
"Certain, he wants some wall in there," DeSipio said. But he added Trump seemed somewhat willing to compromise in this area.
“He indicated that he’d be open to it (a DACA compromise) so long as it includes some form of border security,” DeSipio said, “and that is probably where I think he made his biggest concessions.”
So far, Trump's insistence on a border wall and other security measures have not been acceptable to many immigrant advocates.
“We’re still pushing for a clean Dream Act,” said Rosa, 23, a recent college graduate whose DACA permit expires at the end of this year. She asked her last name not be used because of her unauthorized status.
Rosa traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. this week with other DACA recipients to lobby members of Congress for a bill that would benefit the young immigrants without additional immigration enforcement measures attached.
She was skeptical of the president's comments on wanting a DACA solution, noting that he has made similar remarks in the past. He urged Congress to come up with a solution to the young immigrants' status in September, and has talked about a compromise with lawmakers since.
“But there has been no action since then," Rosa said. "Actions speak louder than words.”
On the topic of the potential presidential candidacy of Oprah Winfrey, Trump said: "Yeah, I'll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun. I know her very well. You know I did one of her last shows."
He added, "I like Oprah; I don't think she's gonna run."
Speaking of one of her last shows, this was Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. on Winfrey's show in 2009: