Politics In The News: Congress Returns On Tuesday

Sep 5, 2017
Originally published on September 6, 2017 8:20 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are waiting this morning on an announcement on the fate of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. All signs indicate the Trump administration is planning to end protection for the nearly 800,000 immigrants often called DREAMers. President Obama had protected them from deportation through an executive action. Here to tell us what President Trump might do is NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

KELLY: OK. So the program in question is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, it's known as. And we are told the decision's been made to end it but maybe not right away. What's the story?

DETROW: Yeah. There could be an asterisk here, and that would be a six-month delay, which would give Congress technically time to pass a bill to make this legislation not just an executive action. You know, this has been questioned. There have been questions about legal standing. It's been challenged in the courts before. And the reason President Trump and the White House are making this decision today is because several conservative states had said they are planning on suing, on challenging this yet again in the courts.

On this particular issue, though, President Trump has really been all over the map. During his campaign, he ran, as you remember, as a hardliner on immigration with build-the-wall chants at literally every single rally. Here's how President Trump answered a question about what he plannned to do with DACA when he was running for office last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want DREAMers to come from the United States. I want the people in the United States that have children, I want them to have dreams, also. We're always talking about DREAMers for other people. I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be DREAMers, also. They're not dreaming right now.

KELLY: All right. That was - that was then-candidate Trump back on the campaign trail last year. Scott, what is he saying now? You said he's been all over the place.

DETROW: Yeah, that certainly was not sympathetic-sounding sounding to DREAMers. But since he's taken office, he has sounded a lot more sympathetic. There was one interview with the Associated Press earlier this year where he said that DREAMers have nothing to worry about. He was asked that question again - should DREAMers worry - last week. Here's what he said to that question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should DREAMers be worried?

TRUMP: We love the DREAMers. We love everybody. Thank you very much.

DETROW: A bit more noncommittal there, perhaps, but I think that's reflective of the fact that President Trump is being lobbied on all sides on this issue, and he really seems to be wrestling with the right path, what to do here both politically and - and as a way to deal with about 800,000 people who - you know, this is a serious issue for their lives.

KELLY: Yeah, absolutely. Critical and central. OK. So what is Congress's role in all of this? Congress has struggled for years to pass comprehensive immigration reform. What are the chances it might happen now?

DETROW: I think that you're right. Every time this has been picked up and a bill has tried to get passed, it stalled at one point or another. You know, this is an issue where Republicans are split. Many Republicans don't want to see President Trump end DACA. House Speaker Paul Ryan last week said he should not end it. There's been a big push among moderates to fix this, but what was interesting is, in the last week or so even some really conservative lawmakers have - have spoken out for keeping some form of DACA. This is a statement from Oklahoma Senator James Lankford - very conservative lawmaker - saying, quote, "we as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents."

The question is what can happen? Remember Congress has had a hard time getting any major legislation passed that Republicans agree on, let alone something as divisive as this.

KELLY: Immigration or otherwise, which makes me want to pivot you toward some of the other things on Congress's plate. They are back in town today after the summer recess. What is going to be top of the agenda?

DETROW: Well, this month there are several key deadlines, must-do things. They need to fund the government. They need to raise the debt ceiling. So those are priorities one and one-A. Immediately what you're going to see is action as early as this week to pass an initial emergency response bill for Harvey. There's an $8 billion package. The House could vote on it tomorrow. Now, the White House is pushing for that Harvey relief to be rolled in with raising the debt ceiling so it's...

KELLY: Just get it all done at once.

DETROW: All out of the way. Here's Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaking this weekend on "Fox News Sunday."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

STEVE MNUCHIN: Prior to Harvey, I think, you know, I've said we have enough funding to go through the end of September and had urged Congress to - to focus on this before that period of time. But with Harvey, it's moved the situation up earlier, and without raising the debt limit, I'm not comfortable that we will get the money that we need this month to Texas to rebuild.

DETROW: Now, in the past when there have been efforts to combine raising the debt ceiling with other issues, there has been big pushback from Tea Party Republicans especially who are loath to raise the debt ceiling without cutting funding elsewhere. So you could see rank and file pushback for that.

KELLY: Another big issue on the table is tax reform. That was a - that's a signature President Trump, speaking of things that he backed on the campaign trail. He wants to get this done. Is that going to get done this fall?

DETROW: This fall, perhaps. I don't think that it could get done in September. I think, you know, we've got the debt ceiling. We've got government funding. We haven't even gotten to the fact that several key government programs expire or run out of money at the end of the month, one of those being the National Flood Insurance Program, which is going to play a central role in Houston - in Texas recovering from this flood. Yeah.

So President Trump is meeting with key House and Senate and administration leaders who are going to be drafting and negotiating that bill today. He'll be meeting with with Democratic and Republican leaders tomorrow. And he's been talking about tax reform on the road, but the fact remains, one, there's a busy schedule, and two, the key details of this plan have not been figured out yet.

KELLY: All right. And now we have President Trump tweeting, saying, big week coming up. Sounds like that is certainly the case, Scott.

DETROW: Fact-check true.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks very much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.