Will He or Won’t He? Conflicting Trump Messages Sow Immigration Confusion

Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Wednesday at the Capitol. He is planning to hold votes next week on two immigration measures.

WASHINGTON — Conflicting messages from President Trump and his aides over whether he would support a compromise immigration bill sent House Republicans into fits of confusion on Friday, further diminishing the bill’s fortunes ahead of a showdown vote next week.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is planning to hold votes on two immigration measures: a hard-line conservative bill, which is almost certain to fail, and new legislation worked out by Republican immigration moderates and House conservatives, which Mr. Ryan promotedThursday as a “very good compromise.”

But a day of White House drama left Republicans unsure of where the president stood, and uncertainty will not help legislation that would bring sweeping change to the United States’ immigration system. On Friday morning, Mr. Trump seemed to casually dismiss the delicate compromise.

“I’m looking at both of them,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox and Friends.” “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.”

Senior aides in the White House quietly insisted that the president had misspoken, but it took hours for the White House to say that out loud.

Finally, early Friday evening, Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, issued a statement pledging Mr. Trump’s support for the compromise bill as well as for the hard-line measure, which is sponsored by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia. Mr. Shah said the president’s opposition referred to an effort by moderate Republicans to use a so-called discharge petition to force the House to vote on narrower legislation to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

“The president fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill,” Mr. Shah said. “In this morning’s interview, he was commenting on the discharge petition in the House, and not the new package. He would sign either the Goodlatte or the leadership bills.”

It is unclear how much damage Mr. Trump’s comments had done — and whether Republicans will be satisfied with the assurance that the president does support the compromise.

“If he won’t sign it, we’ve got a major problem,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida before the White House’s clarification. He is one of 23 Republicans who signed the discharge petition in an attempt to force immigration votes in the House.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ryan had told House Republicans that Mr. Trump was enthusiastic about their effort on immigration. In fact, the compromise bill was built to please the president: It was shaped around the “four pillars” for immigration legislation that he had long ago laid out, including funding his promised wall on the southwest border and restricting family-based immigration.

Even before Mr. Trump’s comments on Friday morning, the bill’s passage next week seemed highly uncertain. Democrats are expected to vote against it, and the measure was quickly labeled “amnesty” by critics on the right.

Republican leaders also risk losing votes among immigration moderates in their conference who have been eager to address the Dreamers, who have been protected under an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that Mr. Trump moved last year to end.

“I am concerned that the concepts proposed for legislation next week have an overreliance on ineffective and expensive fourth-century security solutions and an unclear path to citizenship for DACA-eligible young men and women at the expense of existing visa programs,” said Representative Will Hurd of Texas, another Republican who signed the petition. “I have and will always believe that the only way to permanently address these challenges is in a bipartisan fashion, and, unfortunately, this is not the path we are on.”



Trump Claims Justice Dept. Report ‘Totally Exonerates Me’

Speaking to reporters, President Trump answered questions about investigations, North Korea and immigration.

“Look, if you see what I’ve done with North Korea, and with the State Department — Mike Pompeo — it’s running so well, I have this running so well. I have purposely, because of this ridiculous witch hunt, I have said, ‘I’m going to stay away from the Justice Department until it’s completed.’ So I wanted to stay away, now that doesn’t mean I have to — because I don’t have to — I can get involved. But I don’t want you people to say that I’m interfering, that I’m doing anything. I think that the report yesterday maybe, more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you’ll see that the —” “But sir, the report” “What would you do with that?” “Why sir?” “Excuse me, wait, wait, wait. What you’ll really see, is you’ll see bias against me and millions, and tens of millions of my followers, that is really a disgrace.” “Mr President!” “And yet, if you, and yet, if you look at the F.B.I. and you went in and you polled the F.B.I. — the real F.B.I. — those guys love me and I love them.” “Mr President!” “Sir! Are you —” “You have spoken so passionately about the circumstances that led to Otto Warmbier’s death. In the same breath, you’re defending now Kim Jong-un’s human rights record. How can you do that?” “You know why? Because I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family.” “And, by the way, you declared the nuclear threat from North Korea is over.” “I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family. I want to have a good relationship with North Korea. I want to have a good relationship with many other countries. And what I’ve done if you remember, if you’re fair, which most of you aren’t, but if you’re fair, when I came in, people thought we were probably going to war with North Korea. If we did —” “You said the threat is over, is it over?” “Quiet. Quiet. If we did, millions of people would have been killed. I don’t mean like, a — you know, people were saying a hundred thousand — Seoul has 28 million people, 30 miles off the border. You would have had 30, 40, 50 million people killed. Who knows what would have happened? I came in, that was what I inherited. I should have never inherited — that should have been solved long before I got there. I did a great job this weekend. The fake news said, ‘Oh, you met.’ The only thing they saw that I gave up. One broadcast said, ‘He gave up so much.’ You know what I gave up? I met. I met, we had great chemistry. He gave us a lot: You haven’t had a missile test in seven months. You haven’t had a firing, you haven’t had a nuclear test in eight and a half months. You haven’t had missiles flying over Japan. He gave us the remains of our great heroes. I have had so many people begging me, parents and fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, wherever I went, ‘Could you please get the remains of my boy back?’ They’re giving them back. Nobody thought that was possible.” “Sir!” “Wait. Wait. Excuse me, wait. They are doing so much for us. And now we’re well on our way to get denuclearization and the agreement says there will be total denuclearization — nobody wants to report that. So the only thing I did, was I met, I got along with him great. He is great. We have a great chemistry together. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.” “Mr. President, how can Kim love his people if he’s killing them?” “I can’t speak to that. I can only speak to the fact that we signed an incredible agreement. It’s great. And it’s going to be great for them, too, because now, North Korea can develop and North Korea can become a great country, economically, it can become whatever they want. But there won’t be nuclear weapons and they won’t be aimed at you and your family. We now have a very good relationship with North Korea. When I came into this job it looked like war. Not because of me, but because — if you remember the sitdown with Barack Obama — I think he will admit this, he said the biggest problem that the United States has, and by far the most dangerous problem, and he said to me, that we’ve ever had, because of nuclear, is North Korea. Now that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem. Now we’re getting it memorialized and all and that problem is largely solved — and part of the reason is we signed number one a very good document. You know what? More importantly than the document, I have a good relationship with Kim Jong-un. That’s a very important thing. I can now, wait, I can now call him. I can now say, ‘Well, we have a problem.’ I told him, I gave him a very direct number. He can now call me if he has any difficulty. I can call him. We have communications — it’s a very good thing. People are shocked that this is the kind of, you know they thought Trump was going to get in, and he was going to start throwing bombs all over the place. It’s actually the opposite. But we’re building a military so strong — $716 billion next year. 700 this year — we’re building a military so strong, nobody’s going to mess with us. But you know what, I never want to have to use it.” “Mr. President, do you agree with children being taken away from their family?” “No, I hate it. I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.” “Sir, that’s your —” “They were forced —” “Mr President!” “Mr President!” “Quiet. Quiet. That’s the Democrats’ law. We can change it tonight. We can change it right now.” “You’re the president, you can change it —” “I will leave here. No, no. You need their votes. You need their votes. The Democrats, all they have to do —” “You control both chambers of Congress, the Republicans do.” “The Democrats, excuse me, by one vote. We don’t need it. You need 60 votes. We have a one vote — excuse me — we need a one vote, We have a one-vote edge, we need 60. So we need 10 votes. We can’t get it from the Democrats.”

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Speaking to reporters, President Trump answered questions about investigations, North Korea and immigration.CreditCredit...Evan Vucci/Associated Press

A 293-page draft of the compromise bill, circulated Thursday among lawmakers, would make broad changes to the nation’s immigration system. It would offer legal status to Dreamers, and would create a special visa program that would allow them to receive green cards based on factors like employment and education. In turn, they could become citizens.

The bill would toughen rules for asylum seekers, and it would provide billions of dollars for Mr. Trump’s border wall while making changes intended to strengthen immigration enforcement. It would also curb family-based immigration and eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which admits immigrants from countries that do not send many people to the United States.

Another significant and politically volatile issue is how the bill would affect the separation of children from parents at the border, a matter that has become front and center as the Trump administration has cracked down on illegal border crossings.

The Justice Department now has a “zero tolerance” policy for people who cross the southwest border illegally, prosecuting all cases. Under that policy, put in place by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, children are split from their parents as their parents go through the criminal justice system. Mr. Ryan told reporters on Thursday that he did not think families should be broken up and called for a legislative fix.

A summary of the draft bill said that it would ensure that children apprehended at the border are not separated from their parents while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.

But several immigration policy experts said Friday that they did not believe that the measure would stop the separation of children from parents who are prosecuted under the policy.

“There’s absolutely nothing in there that ends family separation,” said Kerri Talbot, a former Democratic Senate aide. “There’s definitely going to be family separations as long as there is this Sessions zero-tolerance policy.”

A House Republican aide said bill drafters were aware of the issue regarding the fate of children whose parents are prosecuted, and were working to include language in the compromise bill that would keep families together under those circumstances, as well.

The compromise bill is the product of weeks of negotiations among lawmakers as House Republican leaders moved to defuse the rebellion from moderate members eager for action to protect the Dreamers. The moderates fell two signatures short of what they needed on their discharge petition in order to force votes on immigration this month.

Mr. Trump’s comments on Friday morning seemed to undercut Mr. Ryan’s argument against the moderates’ petition drive, which the speaker had said was pushing legislation that the president would never sign. On Thursday, Mr. Ryan said that with the compromise bill, the House was “bringing legislation to the floor that, if it passed all the way through the process, would make law.”

The confusion on Friday on Capitol Hill came at a time when lawmakers already have to move quickly to digest the lengthy compromise bill before the votes planned for next week.

Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, suggested that Mr. Ryan’s time frame was too short, and that holding a vote next week on the compromise measure would not give lawmakers who had not been part of the negotiations enough of a chance to sift through the bill and debate it.

Mr. Perry, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he has reservations about the measure, complaining that it lacks provisions for the system known as E-Verify, through which employers can confirm they are hiring legal workers, and said it does not go far enough to limit family-based migration or crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.

“When this train leaves the station,” Mr. Perry said, “there ain’t going to be another one.”

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