Politics

Kelly Headed to Hill to Work on Possible Immigration Deal Breakthrough

Trump’s chief of staff was scheduled to travel with him to Davos

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, right, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, arrive for a meeting with President Donald Trump at a Republican Senate Policy luncheon in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo) 

Updated at 9:04 a.m. | White House Chief of Staff John Kelly remained in Washington after being scheduled to join President Donald Trump in Davos, to continue work on a possible bipartisan immigration breakthrough.

Kelly is expected to head to Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief lawmakers on a White House overhaul framework due out on Monday, according to a senior administration official. 

A couple hours before Trump departed for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, he interrupted a Wednesday evening session between Kelly and reporters and told his chief of staff he wants an immigration deal before he returns from a Switzerland. 

Trump also appeared to endorse a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” while saying he may extend his March 5 deadline for termination of the DACA program if lawmakers and his White House have yet to figure out how to legalize the program. 

Watch: Immigration, Budget Talks on Hill Could Be Just That — A Lot of Talk

The remarkable 14-minute back-and-forth with reporters showed — again — how the president himself often alters White House policy. Because a senior administration official was expected to lay down some hard-line markers for ongoing immigration talks, Trump’s impromptu mini-press conference showed how he sometimes appears at odds with the policy direction in which his staff wants to go.

But, as his challenge to Kelly showed, he is the boss.

As Trump went on about his immigration views and a range of other matters, including the special counsel investigation into Russia and his 2016 presidential campaign, Kelly looked on quietly, looking down at his desk a few times for extended periods with his arms crossed. Press aides glanced in his direction, but he did not try to stop Trump from interacting with reporters.

The president’s endorsement of eventual citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, marks yet another shift in his seemingly fluid immigration views. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Trump would sign a hard-line House immigration bill that would only grant Dreamers renewable legal status designations — but no shot at full citizenship.

“We’re going to morph into it,” Trump said, signaling he favors a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship. But, as often happens at the Trump White House, a senior administration official later indicated that legal status would happen “immediately, if they behave themselves.”

Proponents of Dreamer citizenship jumped at the chance to use the president’s words in their favor.

“President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system,” tweeted South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a key senator involved in ongoing DACA negotiations. “With this strong statement I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”

Trump also revealed he may be willing to give Congress more time to pass legislation that would protect DACA recipients if lawmakers fail to do so by his March 5 deadline for unwinding the program.

“I certainly have the right to that, if I want,” he said.

Trump also expressed confidence that he and lawmakers can strike a deal, and offered a message to the roughly 700,000 people now enrolled in DACA: “Tell them not to worry.”

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