Disbelief, outrage and shrugs: How Trump's bipartisan immigration dinner shuffled the swamp
Posted 5:09 p.m. Thursday
Outside the House floor Thursday morning, conservatives were having a very hard time believing that President Donald Trump would undercut Republicans on immigration.
It was all over the news: Trump had sat down to dinner with Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. And over some Chinese food, Trump had agreed to a broad framework to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients in exchange for border security, according to Democrats. The deal, one source familiar said, was to pair the DREAM Act with enhanced border protections. That did not include, however, Trump's marquee campaign promise of a border wall.
The White House pushed back on the Democrats' characterization of the meeting, but the fact is still that Trump has fundamentally shifted the contours of how he governs. After a campaign that began with accusing immigrants of being rapists and criminals, Trump was at the table talking immigration with Democrats.
"I find it hard to believe," said Virginia Republican David Brat. "I find it very hard to believe that he's going ... 'whoops, I flipped 180 on the seminal issue of our campaign.'"
"Here's what I'm worried about. Fake news. Don't believe what you see in the newspaper. Believe what you see with your own eyes," said Scott Perry, another conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, one of Trump's earliest supporters in Congress, repeatedly said he didn't believe that the President cut any deal, and even when reporters quoted him, said "we don't know that."
Republican Hill leaders on DACA: 'There's no agreement'
Across Capitol Hill, Republicans were reeling. Asked to react in the wake of the news Wednesday night, one Republican member told CNN "Just confused."
"About everything -- we literally have no insight into what he/they are trying to do right now," the lawmaker said.
One senior congressional aide described the turn of events as "a hot mess."
"I have no idea what's going to happen with this," said the aide. "Like, seriously no idea. So the President is out there negotiating with Nancy and Chuck and he's cutting deals when Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and insofar as I know, they weren't in the room on these deals. How can you make a deal with Congress that doesn't include both sides of the aisle? I just don't get it."
Trust between Republican leadership and the White House was already eroding. Over the August recess, Trump called out House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by name on Twitter. The tension was exasperated last week when Trump sided with Democrats in a bipartisan Oval Office meeting over the length of the debt ceiling increase.
"Anybody who thought Trump was a Republican, I think was misled," said Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho who said he wasn't surprised by Trump's immigration negotiations. "He's a dealmaker and he'll make it with whoever he can."
Now, Republicans are trying to figure out what Trump's meeting with Democrats means. Kevin Brady, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who has been working around the clock on a Republican tax-reform package, wouldn't answer a question about whether he feared Trump might push Republicans aside there too.
"Let me think about that," Brady said with a grin.
For Republican leadership, Trump's sit-down with Democrats could go two ways. Some Republicans believe that Trump may make it easier for Republican leaders to thread the needle on immigration. Trump, after all, spent his campaign promising border security. If Trump cuts the deal with Democrats than it is Trump's to own.
"Look, Trump has more credibility than our leadership on the issue of border security so he's the one who has to cut the deal ultimately and he's the one who's got to sell it," one Republican member told CNN.
For some, Trump's negotiations with Democrats is a referendum on leadership and party infighting. Republicans in the House passed a plan to overhaul Obamacare, but the Senate did not. After failing to repeal Obamacare, a seven-year campaign promise, members believe they are the reason why Trump may be turning to Democratic colleagues.
"Ideally, Republicans here should be involved in DACA. I don't fault the President. He needs to get something done. I will say the House and the Senate needs to get its act together," said Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey. "I think what he's doing is putting us on notice."
Some Republicans, however, who have long been supportive of DACA didn't care how the President got it done.
"Hey, if you guys get this worked out something that I can vote for, fine by me," said Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada.
Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who has been attacked by Trump in the past on immigration said "I'm glad he's talking to Democrats. And I'm glad that this hopefully will get resolved."
On the Democratic side, the feelings are that their leadership can negotiate but should be careful to remember who Trump was on the campaign trail.
"I'm happy that Nancy and Chuck are so, you know, very enthusiastic and positive about the meeting. I'm sure they gave it their all and I'm sure that that's their interpretation," said Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez. "But with Donald Trump, the only interpretation that's really meaningful -- it's his. And then you have to put it on a clock to see how long it lasts."