The understanding—don’t call it a “deal”—that Pelosi and Schumer reached with Trump was that as part of a legislative package granting legal status to Dreamers, Democrats would support additional border-security measures as long they did not include construction of the president’s proposed border wall. Trump had called for Congress to act on the issue as soon as his administration announced last week that he would end former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after six months, placing around 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children at risk for deportation. This was, as Schumer said on the Senate floor, a “framework” for a legislative agreement.
Yet by midday on Thursday, the understanding, or agreement, or framework that the leaders reached between bites of “honey sesame crispy beef” at the White House amounted to little more than confusion. First, there was a dispute about what Trump had committed to supporting. Was he backing, as the Democrats asserted, enactment of legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to full citizenship for DACA recipients? Within the span of an hour, Trump and a White House spokeswoman said two different things. “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty,” the president told reporters in Florida. “We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.” Yet the spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, had just used the words “legal citizenship” to describe the president’s position on the DACA question.
As to the border-security component, both sides acknowledged there were still a lot of details to be hammered out. Trump warned that he would not give up on “the wall” and that Democrats could not obstruct it indefinitely, but he did not dispute Schumer’s assertion that it would not be part of the DACA agreement. In a Senate-floor speech, Schumer said Democrats had and would continue to support funding to deploy more drones and other surveillance technology at the border, as well as to build new roads to allow border agents to patrol longer sections of the divide. He and Pelosi also touted bipartisan legislation that emerged from the House Homeland Security Committee that would require the Department of Homeland Security to devise a comprehensive strategy to certify that it had operational control over the border. Whether those provisions would be enough for Trump or congressional Republicans, however, was unclear.
From the perspective of Republican leaders who were pointedly excluded from the White House meeting, there was no agreement at all; House Speaker Paul Ryan, perhaps seeking to quell a revolt among his most conservative members, downplayed Trump’s talks with the Democrats as akin to idle chit-chat. “It was a discussion, not an agreement or negotiation,” Ryan told reporters. The speaker reiterated that a DACA bill would only come for a vote as part of a package that also addressed border security and immigration enforcement, although he refused to detail what specific provisions would be required.