Analysis | President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders almost never shy away from engaging in a war of words. But the president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wove such a tight knot of confusion Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that not even they seemed to know how to untangle it.
Sowing the seeds of vague political promises is classic Trump. On the campaign trail, the Republican presidential candidate often touted his negotiating skills as a billionaire New York real estate mogul.
But the dawn after his Tuesday evening meeting with Pelosi and Schumer at the White House showed how dealmaking and breaking in the corporate business world does not always translate into how to tactically maneuver around veteran congressional lawmakers.
The mincing of words on all sides also did not help — nor did attempting to respond to one another in the public sphere about what was “agreed” to, what was merely “insisted,” what Democratic leaders “urged” and what was only discussed.
Democratic leaders came away from the meeting with an understanding that Trump would support protecting recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from deportation by urging the House and Senate to pass an existing version of the so-called DREAM Act.
Pelosi reiterated Wednesday in a joint statement she and Schumer released after the meeting that an “agreement” was reached that would protect DACA recipients in legislation and that Democrats would consider adding border security protections that did not include building a wall.
But before she could wrap up her weekly press conference, Trump was making his own clarification: That he would not support amnesty for undocumented individuals, but find a legal way for “Dreamers” to stay here that apparently would not include “looking at citizenship.”
When asked to respond to the president’s comment while she was making her own, the California Democrat declined to answer whether she thought the president was aware that a path to citizenship was included in the DREAM Act. She also said she would not support a bill that did not provide such a path.
“I’m not here to respond to Tweets,” Pelosi said, echoing a sentiment often bemoaned by Speaker Paul D. Ryan when asked to respond to things the president says on the social network without acknowledging the administration has determined tweets are official White House statements.
Unaware that Trump was speaking to reporters on a tarmac in Florida before heading to areas of the Sunshine State damaged by Hurricane Irma, Pelosi said: “You asked me about the meeting, I’m telling you about the meeting.”
She then went on to explain how the bill provided for “earned citizenship” that involved joining the military, education and employment that did not include amnesty.
“We’re not having two different kinds of people live here,” she said. “It’s about everyone in our country having the opportunity to earn the path to citizenship and that’s what the bill does. It’s an earned path to citizenship.”
As he left for Florida, President Trump reiterated that his border wall would be addressed after DACA and an immigration bill. After speaking with GOP leadership, Trump said Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell are “on board” with everything he discussed with Democratic leaders.
At his weekly press conference, Ryan chuckled at the notion of the president striking deals with Democrats before informing the congressional leadership of his own party.
“There’s no agreement,” Ryan said, adding that the president and his chief of staff called him Thursday to discuss what was talked about with the Democratic leaders the night before. “It was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation.”
Then he spun the notion of tying immigration with border security as a combined matter in which Democrats had finally come around to supporting.
Ryan declined to answer whether he and his conference would support bringing the DREAM Act to the House floor as a baseline to DACA protection if it was a deal struck by the president and Democrats.
“What I’m going to do is negotiate with colleagues, what I’m going to do is get consensus with our members, and no offense, but I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” he said. “That is not in our interest. That is not how legislation is drafted.”
While Ryan called it “right and proper” for the president to speak with the other party, he also reminded the president that Republicans are in the majority and are therefore control of what advances in the chamber.
“The president wasn’t negotiating a deal last night. The president was talking with Democratic leaders to get their perspectives,” Ryan said. “Oh, I think the president understands that he’s going to have to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution.”
Meanwhile, across the Capitol, Schumer took to the Senate floor on Thursday to tout the “exactly accurate” statement he put out with Pelosi in which they indicated an agreement was made.
“One of our most productive discussions was about the DACA program, in which we all agreed on a framework: Pass DACA protections and additional security measures, excluding the wall,” the New York Democrat said. “We have reached an understanding on this issue. We have to work out details, and we can work together on a border security package with the White House and get DACA on the floor quickly.”