President Donald Trump on Friday morning delivered a potentially fatal blow to a compromise immigration bill under development in the House.
Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” that he is not planning to sign the negotiated measure.
“I’m looking at both of them. I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one,” Trump said when asked about the two bills teed up for votes next week – the compromise and a conservative-preferred bill. “I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that. We have to get rid of catch-and-release.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill were caught off guard by the comment – with many spinning it their own way. Moderates said they expected the White House to clarify the President wasn’t rejecting the compromise, while conservatives hailed it as an indication that the bill needs to move further to the right.
The rejection of the compromise also contradicted messaging from the White House in recent days.
Earlier this week, top White House adviser Stephen Miller, a known hardliner on immigration, was on the Hill telling key conservatives the White House was supportive of the negotiations on the bill, and House Speaker Paul Ryan told his GOP members behind closed doors that he had been in touch with Trump who was “excited” about the process.
But a follow-up tweet from the President later Friday did little to clear up the confusion – repeating a false claim blaming Democrats for criticism of his own policies and demanding any immigration bill contain all of the things that the bill he attacked that morning in fact contains.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
The draft bill released Thursday included Trump’s requested $25 billion for his border wall and required much more detention of undocumented immigrants – addressing what Trump calls “catch and release.” It also ends the diversity visa lottery and cuts family-based migration, what Trump refers to as “chain,” and diverts those visas into a merit-based system that DACA recipients could apply for.
Trump also was falsely blaming Democrats for his own administration’s decision to criminally charge every adult immigrant caught crossing the border. It was that decision in May that resulted in a substantial increase in family separations, as children are separated from their parents when the adults are sent into the criminal justice system. Under the previous administration, families were only referred to the immigration courts for deportation proceedings or to have asylum claims heard, and were released with monitoring due to constraints on detention.
Without Trump’s support, and with a pledge to veto the legislation, it would be almost impossible to pass the legislation in the House, as members across the ideological spectrum are already hesitant to back the legislation on the political third rail issue and many lawmakers have said they are only interested in a bill that can become law.
The draft bill is the product of weeks of negotiations behind closed doors between Republican moderates and conservatives, convened by leadership after dueling rebellions by both flanks.
Though the parties reached a compromise to move forward, they have never promised the bill will have enough votes to pass, and both conservative and moderate members who helped craft the bill said Thursday they were already seeking changes to it before they could pledge support.
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.