Trump doesn't rule out comprehensive immigration reform bill in meeting

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Story highlights

  • Senators told Trump that it was important to fix the nation's immigration system
  • Backing such an immigration reform bill would be a dramatic break from what Trump said during his campaign

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump told a bipartisan group of senators at the White House Thursday that he is interested in learning more about the so-called "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill, multiple meeting attendees told CNN.

Backing a comprehensive immigration reform bill like the one pushed by a bipartisan group of senators in 2013 would be a dramatic break from what Trump said during his 2016 campaign. The President made the comment Thursday as he urged the group to work together to figure out a solution to break gridlock on immigration.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer quickly knocked down speculation that Trump was supportive of a bill like the one supported by the Gang of Eight, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as long as certain border security measures were undertaken at the same time. But those in the room said Trump did not dismiss the measure and encouraged bipartisan work on immigration.
    Senators, according to one attendee, told Trump that it was important to fix the nation's immigration system and stressed that Trump was in a "unique position to help do that."
    "He encouraged us to review it," West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said referring to the 2013 bill.
    "He didn't boo-hoo it," Manchin added. "He engaged."
    According to a source in the room, the plan to address comprehensive immigration reform was broached by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who backed the measure in 2013. Trump responded, the source said, by expressing an openness to reopen talks about immigration reform.
    "The senator did suggest that it is important to fix our immigration system and that the President is in a unique position to help do that," a spokesman for Alexander said after the meeting.
    Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said immigration was just one of several issues discussed at the meeting and was not the main focus. But he encouraged Trump not to pursue a big immigration bill, instead to move on the issue piece by piece.
    "I basically said, 'Mr. President, before these people lead you down a rabbit trail, let me tell you that what they're talking about will never pass.' But I think there was an almost universal interest in addressing our lauded immigration system," Cornyn told CNN.
    Spicer, in response to reporting on the meeting, told reporters that Trump was not in favor of a Gang of Eight-style bill. Instead, Spicer said Trump pledged to look at whatever the senators came up with as an immigration compromise but did not express support for "amnesty."
    "He said, 'If you guys want to work on something, I'm willing to look at it,'" said Spicer, adding that Trump remains opposed to the Gang of Eight bill.
    In August 2015, Trump told CNN that his immigration reform plan would require people to leave the country.
    "No, there's not a path to legalization unless people leave the country, if they come back in and then they have to start paying taxes," he told Anderson Cooper.
    And during the Republican primary, Trump repeatedly bashed opponents -- particularly Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- who backed the measure.
    "Marco is a politician -- he flip-flops," Trump tweeted in response to a story that alleged Rubio's bill would have helped cities that harbored undocumented immigrants.
    Rubio eventually backed away from his work on the Gang of Eight bill, even attempting to argue during his 2016 presidential campaign that the bill was never meant to become law.
    Eight senators -- four Democrats and four Republicans -- got together in 2013 to push the comprehensive immigration reform measure that was meant to solve the immigration problem with a mix of progressive and conservative solutions.
    In a 68-32 vote, the roughly 1,200-page measure was passed by the Senate in 2013. But House Republicans, whose members railed against illegal immigration and the comprehensive immigration reform measure, never took up the bill.