Donald Trump was striking a deal over dinner with Democrats on Wednesday night to save Dreamers from deportation. By Thursday morning, his aides were playing catch up and insisting nothing changed in his position on immigration or border security.
Now, as confusion reigns over Trump’s true intentions for dealing with 800,000 people affected by a now-canceled Obama-era order that allowed them to live and work in the United States, one senior Republican lawmaker wants the White House to come clean.
“It is unfortunate that the President continues to play coy with young people who benefit our American society instead of being serious and straightforward about an important policy that will impact the lives of nearly 800,000 DREAMers,” said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement provided to Miami Herald.
Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican from Florida and a co-sponsor of a bill called the Dream Act that gives these young people a path to citizenship, was unable to be in Washington for congressional business this week, as her district continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.
“We hear reports that he is working on a deal that would help DREAMers, but he flatly denies such a deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Instead of changing with the prevailing wind, the President must be clear about his intentions. If he is interested in protecting DREAMers, he must cut out the rhetoric of trying to please all sides and, instead, put forth clear guidance on what legislative language he is willing to accept or reject on protecting Dreamers.”
As Trump looks increasingly willing to buck his far-right base to score some legislative victories — first on the nation’s borrowing limit and now on border security and the immigration policy known as DACA — three Miami-based Republicans find themselves in a new and potentially influential role as center-right lawmakers able to form a coalition with Democrats. Including Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo have something to gain from Trump’s dealmaking with Democrats.
Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart in particular have worked for years on finding a solution for undocumented immigrants. Diaz-Balart says he was close to gathering enough Republican support to pass a comprehensive immigration bill in 2014, but the effort fell short after conservative Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., upset former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.
Brat's entire campaign was based on accusations that Cantor was “pro-amnesty,” and Republicans who might have voted for Diaz-Balart's bill got nervous that they could be next to lose reelection.
But the president’s recent meetings with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California, and tweets suggesting that he wants to find a solution, provide an avenue to pass legislation written and endorsed by the Miami Republicans.
Curbelo is the original sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, a bill that provides Dreamers a path to citizenship through higher education, employment or military service. He views it as a more conservative alternative to the Dream Act that might encourage Republicans such as Trump to get on board.
Curbelo has other Republicans’ support. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate and moderate Republicans such as Reps. Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Jeff Denham of California are backing his bill.
“It is the bill that will most likely move forward, but I also believe it’s important for Republicans and Democrats to come together and have a real debate about it” Denham said.
Trump’s explicit endorsement for a legislative solution, whether it’s Curbelo’s bill, the Dream Act or something else, would provide political cover for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put a bill on the floor and allow a vote.
More hard-line conservatives such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa will almost certainly oppose any attempt to give Dreamers a path to citizenship, but those who oppose the effort suddenly seem to be facing a situation in which they will be bucking a president they need as an ally on other issues.
For Ros-Lehtinen, Trump must make his intentions clear now, as 800,000 young people are not sure if they will be able to stay in the United States. And DACA officially expires in March 2018.
“Congress is ready to help in a bipartisan manner,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We need a clear clarion call. That is up to you, Mr. President.”