January 17, 2018 / 8:06 PM / 4 months ago

Exclusive: Trump takes hard line on immigration, rejects 'horrible' bipartisan plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday aligned himself solidly with conservative Republicans on immigration, criticizing a proposed bipartisan deal as “horrible” on U.S. border security and “very, very weak” on reforms for the legal immigration system.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Senate proposal - aimed at addressing Democrats’ demands for protections for young adults brought to the United States illegally as children and dubbed “Dreamers” - fell far short of what most Republicans believe needs to happen, the president said.

“It’s the opposite of what I campaigned for,” Trump told Reuters in an interview.

The plan was presented to Trump last week by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

Trump drew international condemnation after reports emerged that he had questioned the value of taking immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean nation of Haiti during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers at the White House last Thursday, referring to them as “shithole” countries.

Trump has denied using that word. Trump in the interview on Wednesday declined to say what specific words he used.

“I’m not going to get into what I said, but I will tell you, it was a tough meeting,” Trump said.

Many Democrats have said they will not vote for spending legislation to keep the federal government funded past a Friday deadline without an immigration deal, and Republicans will need at least some Democratic votes to pass the funding extension in the Senate.

Trump said he thinks a deal on immigration is still possible. “Time is running out,” he said.

Democrats said the negotiated plan addressed Trump priorities, including $2.7 billion for additional border security funding.

“The president can’t seem to take yes for an answer and is heading towards a shut down, which would fall squarely on his back,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Trump said a federal government shutdown “could happen” at the end of the week, insisting Democrats would be blamed if that occurs even though Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

The White House has said it backs a short-term spending measure by a Friday deadline to prevent a shutdown.

“HE MEANT WELL”

Trump in September announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme that protects the Dreamers, which was begun by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, effective in March. The programme currently protects roughly 700,000 people, mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides them work permits.

Trump has said he is open to finding a solution to help the Dreamers. But he said he became unhappy when Graham and Durbin, who had told him they had a compromise on the Dreamers issue, presented the details.

But Ben Marter, a spokesman for Durbin, said on Friday that following an initial telephone conversation with Trump about the deal, the senator had been “encouraged” by Trump’s reaction and had expected further progress on the legislation at a White House meeting that day.

Trump said he had called Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte to join that meeting at the White House, describing them as “smart guys, with more of a conservative bent, more of a bent like I have.”

As Graham and Durbin began describing the deal, Trump said, it was immediately clear it would be unacceptable to most Republicans.

“It’s horrible for the security of our country,” Trump said, noting there was not enough funding for the wall he has promised to build on the U.S.-Mexican border, a project opposed by Democrats.

The proposal was “very, very weak” on curbing visas for extended family members of immigrants, and failed to end a diversity visa lottery programme.

“Lindsey - he meant well - but I said, ‘Well, how many Republicans agree with this?’” Trump said.

Trump blamed Durbin for leaking the language he used in the meeting, a disclosure that prompted critics to denounce Trump as a racist, an accusation he denied.

“I’ve lost all trust in Durbin,” Trump said.

Trump campaigned for president in 2016 promising a hard line on immigration, including deporting all of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country and a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims into the United States. As president, he has signed three orders banning entry of most people from several Muslim-majority countries as well as rescinding DACA.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by James Oliphant, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Caren Bohan, Will Dunham and Leslie Adler

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