White House says ‘confused’ Donald Trump doesn’t oppose immigration bill after all
Trump’s comments in a TV interview confound Republicans, who are putting forward two bills to address the issue
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump was in favour of signing a new immigration bill, the White House said. On Friday, Trump said he would do no such thing. Now the White House is saying that, yes, he will. What’s going on?
The tumult erupted as Republican leaders put finishing touches on two bills concerning immigration into the US: a hard-right proposal and a middle-ground plan negotiated by the party’s conservative and moderate wings, with White House input.
Only the compromise bill would open a door to citizenship for ‘Dreamers’, the young immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children, and reduce the separation of children from their parents when families are detained crossing the border – a practice that has drawn bipartisan condemnation in recent days.
“I’m looking at both of them,” Trump said when asked about the proposals during an impromptu interview on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, adding, “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.”
The comment prompted widespread confusion among lawmakers, not least because House Speaker Paul Ryan told his colleagues earlier this week that Trump supported the middle-ground package and White House aide Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner who has been accused of trying to sabotage immigration deals in the past, told conservative lawmakers at a closed-door meeting that Trump backed that plan.
But a senior White House official later said Trump, confused, had believed his Fox interviewer was asking about a currently abandoned effort Republican moderates that would have forced House of Representatives votes on a handful of bills and likely led to the passage of liberal-leaning versions that Republican party leaders oppose.
The official, who was not authorised to discuss internal conversations by name, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The interviewer had specifically asked whether Trump supported a conservative bill written by Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, or “something more moderate,” and asked whether he’d sign “either one”.
The White House later put out a statement formally endorsing the measure.
“The president fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah, adding that Trump would sign “either the Goodlatte or the leadership bills”.
Trump also weighed in by tweet, writing that any bill “MUST HAVE” provisions financing his proposed wall with Mexico and curbing the existing legal immigration system. Those items are included in the middle-ground package.
“Go for it! WIN!” Trump wrote in a tweet that stopped short of explicitly endorsing the compromise plan. He also blamed the Democrats for the splitting up of families, even though the practice was introduced by Trump’s own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
After Trump made his comments on Fox, Representative Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, told reporters that party leaders were seeking “clarity” from the White House. He suggested that plans for votes next week were being reconsidered.
“House Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump,” McHenry said.
Democrats are expected to solidly oppose both Republican bills.
The issue of separating families at the border has generated increasing public backlash and threatens to become an issue in the November elections that will decide control of Congress.
The moderate plan would specifically state that a minor who does not arrive at the border unaccompanied must be released to a parent or legal guardian.
Currently, children who arrive with their parents are sent to temporary government shelters while their parents go through the legal process. On Thursday, Senate Republicans said they might seek separate legislation to end the practice.