Speaking to reporters in the Capitol in between four back-to-back meetings on the issue with lawmakers, Kelly declined to answer whether he and staff had misguided the President, as Sens. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, alleged after their proposal was rejected.
"That deal that came over was supposed to be two things: bipartisan and both sides of the Hill," Kelly said. "And it was bipartisan in the sense that there were several Democratic and Republican senators, but there were a number of other senators that had been involved in this from the beginning, (Sens. Tom) Cotton and (David) Perdue is an example, (Thom) Tillis from North Carolina, that were not consulted. And the House was not consulted at all."
Durbin and Graham crafted the bill with two other Republicans, Sens. Jeff Flake and Cory Gardner, and Democrats Sens. Michael Bennet and Robert Menendez. Tillis and Republican Sen. James Lankford had been meeting with the group but were not included in meetings after the new year over perceptions about lacking a sense of urgency. Cotton and Perdue are supporters of a hardline proposal to slash legal immigration supported by President Donald Trump.
Kelly said that in the meeting, where the President made the now-infamous "shithole countries" comment,
Trump's sense was the Durbin-Graham bill "fell short."
"His sense was, two things. It fell short of certainly what he was looking for based on the Thursday conversation and other conversations," Kelly said. "But more to the point, it did not include all of the senators that have been involved in all of the discussions about DACA and certainly did not involve the House. And the President has said from the beginning, it's got to be bipartisan and unless it involves the House as well as the Senate, it's going to go down again as a bill that does not pass into law."
Kelly did not address the vulgar comments controversy, but one of the lawmakers Kelly met with, Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said in their moderate Republican meeting it came up "briefly" and it was acknowledged that "foul language" was used by multiple people at that meeting.
Kelly said Trump still wants a fix for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, saying the termination of it "intentionally" left six months before its end, "so that there could be plenty of time for the United States Congress to actually talk to each other, both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Hill, talk to the White House, which they've done, and then actually come up with a bill that will pass both houses."
Kelly indicated that the President would want to protect current DACA recipients, and Curbelo said he was "very confident" that the President would accept including a path to citizenship after his meeting.
"The President that I work for wants 700,000 or so DACA recipients, the vast majority of whom are now adults, to have a way to stay in the United States legally," Kelly said. "He wants that. That's a given. But what we cannot have is a unprotected, unsecured southwest border that five, six, seven years from now, we have another group of 600 or 700,000 DACA people."
Kelly met on Wednesday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, followed by four moderate Republicans, followed by two leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and then went to meet with the bipartisan congressional No. 2's who are attempting to negotiate a deal.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly identify how many moderate Republicans White House chief of staff John Kelly met with on Wednesday morning. The meeting was with four moderate Republicans.