DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators expressed some positivity Tuesday that they might get a favorable deal to protect young immigrants from deportation after a bipartisan meeting between groups from both chambers of Congress and the White House.
Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) have been part of a bipartisan group of senators who have for months been working to get the Dream Act passed into law while also addressing border security issues—something Denver7 first reported in early December.
On Tuesday, President Trump hosted members from both parties in the House and Senate as they worked in a rare open meeting, which was televised for nearly an hour, to hash out a deal that will reinstate protections for Dreamers through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and also give Trump and the GOP border security measures they have asked for over the past year.
There was some confusion, even after the meeting, as to exactly what the president was looking for in a deal.
He said in recent days he wouldn’t accept a deal without $18 billion for a border wall, but when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., if he would support a “clean” DACA bill in exchange for a separate, later bill addressing comprehensive immigration reform, he seemed to say he did.
“I would like it…I think a lot of people would like to see that, but I think we have to do DACA first,” Trump responded, also saying he wanted a “bill of love” for Dreamers.
He was then interrupted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., saying that a DACA bill would have to include border security measures.
Afterward, Trump and the White House said the president wanted the wall to be part of a DACA deal. The group is scheduled to meet again Wednesday after narrowing discussions to involve Dreamer status, border security, family-based immigration and the visa lottery. The latter two subjects have been hot talking points for many conservative Republicans in recent months as the administration clamps down on immigration to the U.S.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s words Tuesday were “encouraging.”
Bennet, Colorado’s Democratic senator, also said he walked away from the meeting feeling optimistic.
“To the extent the meeting helped narrow the scope of our negotiations and prioritize the Dream Act, this was a positive first step,” Bennet said in a statement to Denver7. “I’m pleased that there seemed to be an acknowledgement of the urgent need to pass this bipartisan bill immediately, so DACA recipients stop losing status and having their lives upended. It was also encouraging that the President expressed his interest in passing comprehensive immigration reform after we pass the Dream Act.”
Gardner signed on with Bennet to cosponsor the Dream Act in September. It was his first time cosponsoring such legislation. The House never brought a vote on the “Gang of Eight” Senate bill while Gardner was there in 2013.
The latest version of the Dream Act would allow Dreamers to get permanent residency if they were brought to the U.S. before age 18, graduate from high school or earn a GED, pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years or serve in the military, pass background checks, and show proficiency in English.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Gardner was similarly optimistic that the Dream Act will get done, and said he was pleased with the day’s discussions.
“Today we had a productive meeting where we discussed the parameters of a bipartisan immigration deal, and thanks to this meeting I expect the pace of negotiations will increase,” Gardner said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has also been part of the group including Gardner and Bennet working on the DACA deal, said that after the cameras were forced to leave Tuesday’s meeting, the president opened up more to exactly what he was looking for.
“A lot of things we want to do are going to be part of a comprehensive bill but not now,” he said.
“My head is spinning with all the things that were said by the president and others in that room in the course of an hour and a half,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who has also been working with Bennet, Gardner, Flake and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham on the discussions.
Gardner echoed Flake's sentiments in an interview with Denver7.
“After the cameras left, we talked a little more about how to get the job done, including laying out the parameters of debate – the parameters of the solution – for the first part of the question, which involves DACA,” Gardner said. “And I believe the meeting will actually go quite a ways in expediting the conversations that are taking place.”
Gardner said he was still malleable when it comes to deciding what should and shouldn’t go into the deal.
“I’m not wedded to this direction or that direction as much as I’m wedded to a bipartisan solution that can get through the House and the Senate and signed by the president,” Gardner told Denver7. “What the president talked about was a wall protection system, I think, or something like that. A wall that includes personnel, that includes technology.”
In a March phone town hall meeting, Gardner said he was looking for new border security measures, but also that he didn’t think a wall was “the best idea.”
“That may mean personnel. It may mean a fence. That may mean an electronic fence,” Gardner said, as reported by Politico. “But we shouldn’t just build a wall and add billions of dollars because that’s what somebody said should be done.”
Tuesday, when asked about Trump’s $18 billion border wall request and if he would not support such a bill if the president were firm on the wall, Gardner brushed aside a direct answer, saying discussions were still ongoing.
“Look, I think this is part of a negotiation, and that’s why you had people on both sides of the aisle who all have their different paths to a solution in front of them,” Gardner said. “So I don’t know how, what the end product is going to look like. But I do know the end product needs to address the concerns that we have as it relates to DACA. And I think the president made it clear that he would sign a bill once we’ve reached that agreement.”
Gardner also touched on the bipartisan effort from him and Bennet to pass the Dream Act—one of several legislative ventures they’ve taken on together over the past year.
“Sen. Bennet and I have always had a great relationship and will continue to. There’s going to be things we disagree on, but the vast bulk of the time…we’re going to be fighting for the best interests of Coloradans,” Gardner said. “I think Sen. Bennet and I probably have a very unique relationship in the United States Senate that I wish more Senate delegations – even if they’re all from the same party – would reflect.”
The DACA and immigration talks will continue Wednesday as the next government shutdown looms at the end of next week. And late Tuesday, a judge granted a pretrial injunction that blocks the Trump administration from rescinding the DACA program, which could further throw a wrench into discussions.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.