Hours after President Trump appeared to tank the emerging House immigration compromise by saying he wouldn’t sign it, the White House sought to clean up the mess, releasing a statement that the president actually did in fact support the plan. Just for good measure, they said he also supports the more conservative bill that is expected to get a vote in the House next week as well.
“Yes, we fully support both the Goodlatte bill and the leadership bill. The President misunderstood the question this morning on Fox News,” an anonymous White House official told the Hill. “He was commenting on the discharge petition/dreamers bill — not the new package. He would 100 percent sign either Goodlatte or the other bill.”
The only thing we know for sure is Trump’s mind seems to change often when it comes to immigration legislation and nobody really speaks for Trump except Trump. So it remains to be seen whether this White House statement is definitive or just another step in the strange journey that began Friday morning.
On Fox & Friends, Trump mentioned that he’s “looking at” the two immigration bills the House is set to vote on next week: the conservative bill written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and the compromise bill that House leadership has crafted with input from moderate Republicans and the White House. Then he said this:
.@realDonaldTrump on immigration bills in Congress: "I'm looking at both of them. I certainly wouldn't sign the more moderate one."— David Chalian (@DavidChalian) June 15, 2018
The “more moderate” bill was explicitly designed to adhere to the “four pillars” that Trump mandated in January be a part of any immigration deal: money for the “wall” he wants to build on the US-Mexico border; elimination of the diversity visa lottery; curbing family-based immigration (which the Trump administration refers to as “chain migration”); and a way for the immigrants currently facing the loss of their protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to apply for formal legal status in the US.
The bill also gives the Trump administration what it’s been demanding more recently, as it’s turned its attention to trying to reduce the number of asylum seekers (especially Central Americans, and especially families) coming into the US without papers: The bill drastically raises the bar for the initial screening that allows someone to stay in the US and pursue an asylum case; it allows the US to turn back any asylum seeker who’s come through Mexico and tell them to seek asylum there instead; and it allows children to be detained indefinitely by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which the Trump administration claims is the only alternative to separating them from their parents at the border).
As late as Wednesday, the White House was helping Republican leadership sell the deal to conservatives in the House. Stephen Miller, the biggest immigration hardliner in Trump’s White House, went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby one of the House’s most influential conservative caucuses, the Republican Study Committee. According to Politico’s Rachael Bade and Heather Caygle:
During the meeting, Miller told conservatives that the bill is “the best thing we’ve seen since 1965, with the original immigration law that we have,“ according to GOP Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida, who was in the meeting. And to kill the bill, he said, “would be to accept the status quo, which is inappropriate for us.“
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that he’d been working “hand in glove” with the Trump administration; he told Republican members of Congress that Trump was “excited” to sign the bill.