House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he sees the possibility for compromise after President Donald Trump gave Congress six months to resolve the status of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. And he called on Trump to work with the House to get there.
"If we have legislation coming through here that is worked with and supported by the president I'm very confident that our members will support that," Ryan said.
Trump said Wednesday he has "no second thoughts" a day after announcing an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that former President Barack Obama created to give temporary work permits and deportation protections to qualifying immigrants brought illegally to this country as children.
Nearly 800,000 younger immigrants, known as "Dreamers," have now obtained the protections and are pleading desperately with Congress not to subject them to deportation.
But Ryan made clear that any solution would also have to be paired with border security measures, a bid for conservative support that could alienate Democrats.
"I think there's a serious humane issue here that needs to be dealt with," Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference.
"But it's only fitting and reasonable that we also deal with some of the root cause of this problem," Ryan said. "We're going to work with our members to find out where that compromise is."
Despite Ryan's optimistic words, the deep divisions among House Republicans that have stymied past efforts on immigration reform were already starkly on display as lawmakers entered and exited Wednesday's conference meeting. Ryan, who became speaker two years ago only after promising he wouldn't bring an immigration bill to the floor without majority support from Republicans, began the meeting promising them the issue would be addressed "deliberately."
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a hardliner on immigration, rejected any move toward what he termed "amnesty" and criticized Trump for not ending the DACA program on Day One of his presidency as he had promised during the campaign.
"Why is this discussion taking place this way? Because he didn't want to make the decision boldly and distinctly," King said of Trump. "And instead it's kind of a King Solomon decision, cut the baby in half and throw both halves to Congress and let us fight over it."
What will actually happen in six months absent congressional action remained unclear. Trump himself took some of the sting from his threats with a tweet issued late Tuesday declaring that if Congress can't act to "legalize" DACA, "I will revisit this issue!"
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that Trump was not committing to any course of action in six months, stressing that he wants Congress to act.
"It is the Congress' role in our country to make the laws, including the immigration laws. Congress has promised to quote act on DACA. We'll see what that means," Conway said. She said if Congress does not act "then the president will perhaps revisit the issue. That's six months from now, let's see what happens."
Conway said that for Trump "DACA is one piece of larger immigration reform," which she said includes a border wall and other items. She added that if Congress wants to "get an earful" from constituents for the next six months "then they are welcome to sit back and wait for further executive action."
The debate confronts Congress four years after comprehensive immigration legislation passed the Senate only to die in the House. And if the six-month deadline holds it will arrive in March of next year, just as primary season gets under way ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections with control of the House at stake. It's an issue with devastating political potential for House Republicans, in particular. Many Republicans represent conservative districts that strongly embraced Trump's tough campaign rhetoric against illegal immigration.
These lawmakers would court voters' wrath, and potential primary challenges, if they flirted with anything that could be labeled amnesty — unless Trump himself sells his base on it first.
Many advocates believe that legislation supporting Dreamers could pass the House now if Ryan brought it up, because it would garner overwhelming Democratic backing and some GOP support. But such a move by Ryan would risk conservative fury. Asked Wednesday whether he would stick with his past commitment not to bring up a bill unless the majority of Republicans in his conference support it, Ryan did not answer directly but bid for the president's involvement.
For their part, Democrats insisted they would persist on the issue by trying to attach legislation to other unrelated measures if it's not otherwise resolved.
"I'd ask my friend the majority leader and Speaker Ryan to put a clean Dream Act on the floor of both chambers in September," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.