Updated 1:04 p.m. | One thing appears clear amid the web of confusion after a Tuesday dinner meeting at the White House: President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to keep talking about immigration and border security issues.
But beyond that, Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York are having a tough time clearly describing what was agreed to over Chinese food in the White House’s Blue Room.
“There was no deal made,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters traveling to hurricane-ravaged Florida with the president, according to pool report.
Minutes later, Trump himself, once on the ground in the Sunshine State, told reporters a formal agreement with not only Democratic leaders — but also leaders of his own party — is merely in the works. His earlier comments to reporters as he walked out of the White House offered the morning’s biggest bit of clarity.
“We’re working on a plan — subject to getting massive border controls. We’re working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen,” the president said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as children.
“You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we’re working on a plan. We’ll see how it works out. We’re going to get massive border security as part of that. And I think something can happen, we’ll see what happens, but something will happen.”
That helped, to a point, clarify a presidential tweet sent earlier in the day. “No deal was made last night on DACA,” Trump wrote before 7 a.m.
“The wall will come later,” the president said as he left the White House. “We’re right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new.”
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Asked if House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agree with that plan, Trump responded: “Mitch is on board, Paul Ryan’s on board. We all feel, look, 92 percent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is very, very powerful border security, OK?"
He then added, “Ryan and McConnell agree with us on DACA, we’re very much, we’re very on board.” Trump said he spoke by telephone on the matter with both GOP leaders.
Trump had previously denied on Twitter that he had agreed to support the Democrats’ desire to make the DACA program legal, despite assertions to the contrary by Schumer and Pelosi after the Tuesday dinner.
The Democratic leaders issued a statement after the nighttime White House session to announce that the trio had agreed to “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly.”
To that end, Trump on Thursday insisted he is not supporting amnesty for undocumented individuals, but a legal way for the DACA recipients to stay here.
“We’re not looking at citizenship, we’re not looking at amnesty, we’re looking at allowing people to stay here. We’re working with … Republican, we’re working with Democrat. … Everybody is on board,” the president said from Fort Myers, Florida.
There also remains confusion around just what Trump and the Democratic leaders agreed to in regard to his proposed southern border barrier.
The Democratic leaders contend the trio agreed to “work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”
But before he met with hurricane relief officials and Irma victims, Trump told reporters there must be an “understanding” between him, Pelosi, Schumer, Ryan and McConnell that he will get funding for the wall at some point in return for his signature on a bill that legalizes the DACA program and puts in place other border security measures.
“We have to have to get the wall. It doesn’t have to be here,” he said, referring to legislation to address DACA or border security. “They can’t obstruct the wall, whether it’s in a budget or something else, when we’re ready for the wall.”
That added substance to a morning Trump tweet that refuted Pelosi and Schumer — and media coverage of the dinner — by saying, “massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.”
Trump also contended via Twitter he doesn’t need any deal immediately with the Democratic leaders to kick-start work on a border wall, saying it already is under construction.
No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Confusion dominated Thursday morning, with Pelosi and Schumer issuing another joint statement saying the president’s “tweets are not inconsistent with the agreement reached last night.”
“As we said last night, there was no final deal, but there was agreement” on the parameters of several issues, the Democratic duo said.
One of those issues is the Obama-era immigration program: “We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act,” the Democrats said.
“What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible,” Schumer and Pelosi said. “While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it.
“Both sides agreed that the White House and the Democratic leaders would work out a border security package,” the Democratic leaders said. “Possible proposals were discussed including new technology, drones, air support, sensor equipment, rebuilding roads along the border and the bipartisan McCaul-Thompson bill.”
Trump and the Democratic leaders can agree to things, but those pacts do not become deals until Ryan and McConnell sign on — as they did when the president sided with the Democrats last week on hurricane aid, the debt ceiling and government funding.
The flap over just what was agreed to came just as Trump is hoping to create warmer relations with congressional Democratic leadership. After months of trying to pass legislation with just Republican votes, he is trying to pivot toward cutting deals on tax, infrastructure, immigration and other bills with members of both parties.
Trump earlier this month set the Obama-era DACA program on a path for termination, giving Congress six months to address the initiative by legislation. (His administration argues the program was implemented via an unconstitutional executive order.) Almost immediately, however, the president, appearing to react largely to media coverage and polling data, began calling for lawmakers to find a way for affected immigrants to avoid deportation.
That continued Thursday morning, with the president tweeting a passionate defense of the DACA recipients, asking if “anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”
“Really!” he added, for emphasis.
Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Trump then tweeted that those immigrants “have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own — brought in by parents at young age.”
He next implied that giving them legal protections through new legislation would help him and Republicans achieve a major campaign promise: “BIG border security.”
...They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Marc Short, Trump’s top liaison to Capitol Hill, explained the president’s sudden shift toward seeking support from Democrats — a group he and other top White House officials had previously called “obstructionists” — as rooted in Trump’s desire to do what he feels is the “right” thing “for the American people.”
Correction 11:39 a.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s congressional title.