STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The latest federal judge to block a Trump administration initiative stopped his move on DACA. The judge in California issued an injunction temporarily affecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The judge said President Trump's action ending that program was likely to be found arbitrary and capricious so it cannot take full effect for now. The ruling came just as Republicans and Democrats were talking with the president about extending DACA as part of an immigration deal. White House legislative director Marc Short was in the room yesterday for that meeting, which many people saw on video, and he's on the line. Mr. Short, welcome back to the program.
MARC SHORT: Steve, thanks for having me on this morning.
INSKEEP: Does the judge's ruling, keeping DACA in place largely for now, take the pressure off to do anything?
SHORT: I don't think so. I think, in fact, the reality is that this is a problem that's needed to be solved for many, many years. In fact, lower courts had ruled the Obama administration's actions unconstitutional. And I think that even the Obama administration recognized the shaky legal ground that they were on, but they were just frustrated that Congress had not acted after promising to act for so long. What this White House did is it gave Congress six additional months to come up with a solution when we made our decision back in October. And so we're anxious to get a solution. We think the reality is that the Ninth Circuit, as you know, in San Francisco has ruled against this administration on several occasions only to be overturned later at a higher level. And so if we let this drag out, the risk would be that the Supreme Court would say, yeah, we're overturning the decision and immediately DACA ends. And so it's better to give us some opportunity to find a legislative fix opposed to risking status for all of those individuals.
INSKEEP: So the president has this meeting yesterday. Fifty-five minutes were televised. It's a discussion with Republicans and Democrats in the same room around a giant table there at the White House. And I want to try to figure out what it is that the president says he is willing to agree to. As you know well, having watched the discussion, Senator Dianne Feinstein at one point asked the president if he would support a clean DACA bill, meaning a bill that's just fixing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, doesn't include anything else. The president says, quote, "yeah, I would like to do it." And then a Republican in the room says, wait a minute, I don't think you mean that.
Did the president mean that? He would do that?
SHORT: Well, there was a lot of crosstalk at the moment. What the president was referencing is that Chairman Feinstein stepped in after a previous conversation, said, we want to do this in two steps. The way the administration views the two steps is there is a long list of priorities we sent to Congress back in October to say here's what we want as part of our overall immigration policy.
INSKEEP: Build a wall, security, things like that.
SHORT: Correct. We've refined that list. And then where we ended the meeting is recognizing there's four things that we're trying to solve here. One is the status for the DACA recipients, which we all want to protect. These are people who are age 16 to 36 who came into our country by their parents and had been working. And assuming there's no legal problem, we want to make sure they stay here and continue to contribute to our economy. Two is border security. Three would be ending chain migration and four would be ending the visa lottery program. Those are what we'd view as our first step. There's some things, other additions that we want as well that we're saying let's do later. There are some things Democrats want that we're saying let's do that later. So that would be the first step.
INSKEEP: So if there's a clean DACA bill, is the president a yes for that?
SHORT: Well, we view a clean DACA bill as those four categories, Steve.
INSKEEP: Meaning not actually a clean DACA bill. You would combine other things and try to make it one.
SHORT: There are other things that we all want to do under the immigration portfolio that we would look to do at a later date, and many of those include interior enforcement priorities for this administration, as well. But we recognize that there's not stomach on that for Democrats right now, and things that they want to do that we would also be willing to do later.
INSKEEP: Has the president given up on the wall as a physical wall? Is he willing to accept, as many Republicans seem to prefer, as well as Democrats, better border security that might take other forms?
SHORT: Steve, Democrats voted in 2013, 54 Senate Democrats. They were for $40 billion in border security, including a physical wall. They voted in 2006, including Chuck Schumer, including Hillary Clinton, including Barack Obama for the Secure Fence Act. It is what Democrats have voted for before. It's what Customs and Border Patrol career officials tell us we need to secure our border. This is not rhetoric from a campaign. This is what professionals tell us is needed.
INSKEEP: Well, they talk about drones, they talk about sensors. They do talk about fences...
SHORT: Yes, Steve, we want all of that.
INSKEEP: ...Not necessarily a concrete wall. You want a concrete wall?
SHORT: No. It includes a wall. It includes those things, too. But it also includes a physical barrier. The president has said himself in talking to CBP, in many cases, they say it's not a concrete wall. It's in some cases fencing because it's better for them to see through and enables them to better protect the border. But it is a physical barrier. It is not simply cameras and drones.
INSKEEP: Can I ask, Mr. Short, about the emotions on this issue, which seem to be almost maybe even more important than the policy? Because there is a lot of emotion. The president used the phrase a bill of love. He would like a bill of love to emerge from this process. But I'm remembering that his presidential campaign opponent, Jeb Bush, was mocked for using the word love, talking of immigration sometimes as an act of love. Is the president taking the side of illegal immigrants here?
SHORT: I think the president believes that people who are here under the DACA program, again, are contributing to our society, and we want to make sure that they stay here. There is a lot of immigration rhetoric on both sides, but the reality of what we want is, I think, something that is practical to secure our country, to change immigration laws moving forward and to protect those who are here. I think the president views that as something that is very empathetic and sympathetic on both sides.
INSKEEP: I'm also thinking about a remark by Ann Coulter, who is a provocateur, has been very much at times a supporter of the president. But she tweeted yesterday, nothing Michael Wolff could say about President Trump - Michael Wolff, the author of that controversial book - nothing Michael Wolff could say has hurt President Trump as much as the DACA love fest right now. Is he abandoning his political base here?
SHORT: As you said, Ann Coulter is provocative. I think that the president is very anxious to find a solution to this problem, and it's one that we need. You look at the two terror attacks that happened in this year. One of them, the individual who drove over five innocent individuals, came here on a visa lottery program and brought other family members via chain migration. The pipe bomb incident in the subway in New York was an immigrant terrorist who came here under chain migration. We need to fix these problems to secure the nation.
INSKEEP: And, we'll just mention, you're giving us a connection there between immigration policy and a couple of specific cases that other people would dispute. One last question in about a few seconds here. Is the president willing to sign onto a path to legal status as part of comprehensive immigration reform? He suggested that yesterday very briefly.
SHORT: The president is very open to that. The president is willing to go there for the DACA participants. But we're also asking for cooperation on the Democrats for what we think are practical, common sense solutions. And the two incidents, again, that I just mentioned are actually factual.
INSKEEP: OK. Got to stop you there. Marc Short, thanks very much. Always appreciate it.
SHORT: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: He is the White House legislative director. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.