THURMONT, Md. -- Emerging from private meetings with Republican leaders, President Donald Trump said Saturday that Congress should enact a measure to provide legal status to young illegal aliens brought to the country as children.
However, Trump said at a news conference at Camp David, Md., that he would not sign the measure unless it also overhauls the U.S. immigration system and includes funding for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico -- a compromise Democratic lawmakers already have rejected.
"We want the wall. The wall is going to happen, or we're not going to have DACA," Trump said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Democrats want to restore.
"We all want DACA to happen, but we also want great security for our country," Trump said. He later added that, "in some form, Mexico will pay for the wall."
[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has been emphatic in refusing to fund the border wall, and his government has said that point is not negotiable. Trump had previously suggested that the U.S. can recoup wall expenses from Mexico through alternative methods.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are struggling to agree on a bipartisan measure that would combine a border-security package with deportation protections for 800,000 young immigrants. Democrats say the protections must be part of a spending bill that has to clear by Jan. 19 in order for the government to avoid a shutdown.
"We hope that we're going to be able to work out an arrangement with the Democrats," Trump said Saturday. "It's something, certainly, that I'd like to see happen."
But Democrats have dismissed a Trump administration proposal for $18 billion in U.S. border-security funding over 10 years because it includes the construction of 722 miles of new and replacement barriers on the Mexican border.
Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Friday that the administration's hard-line approach was "outrageous."
"President Trump has said he may need a good government shutdown to get his wall," Durbin said in a statement. "With this demand, he seems to be heading in that direction."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warned on Saturday against shutting down the government over paying for "a multibillion-dollar wall that no one wants."
"What the American people do want, in overwhelming numbers, is to provide legal protection to 800,000 'Dreamers' and a path toward citizenship for them," said Sanders, referring to the never-passed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would have given protections similar to those provided by the deferred-action program.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was authorized by President Barack Obama in 2012 through an executive order. Trump overturned that order in September, arguing that it could not survive a legal challenge, and gave Congress until March to find an alternative.
Trump ran through other policies that he wants to be part of any package for young illegal immigrants. He wants to eliminate immigration provisions in current law that give preferences to family members of legal immigrants -- a system proponents describe as "family reunification," but opponents call "chain migration." Trump also wants to end the diversity visa lottery, which draws immigrants from underrepresented parts of the world, and replace it with a merit-based approach.
The comments on immigration came on a day when the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee for Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee, emailed supporters asking for their "immigration demands."
An email from the committee carried the subject line "RESPONSIBLE immigration reform" and invited recipients to take a poll on immigration matters. The survey asked respondents to rate their level of support for policies including prioritizing new immigrants who already speak English, limiting immigration at times of high U.S. unemployment, and ruling out the potential for citizenship to be granted to "illegal immigrants."
Those responding to the survey also were asked to "take the next step by making a contribution" of at least $35. The Trump Make America Great Again Committee focuses on small-dollar donors.
Trump spent much of Friday and Saturday morning hashing out the rest of his 2018 agenda with GOP House and Senate leaders, top White House aides and select Cabinet members at Camp David. He described the sessions as "incredible" and "perhaps transformative in certain ways."
A long list of high-stakes topics were on the agenda, from national security and infrastructure to the budget and 2018 midterm election strategy.
Though Democrats were not included in the discussions, the Republican leaders -- some dressed casually in jeans, khakis and sweaters -- said they were optimistic that more Democrats would be working with Republicans.
"We hope that 2018 will be a year of more bipartisan cooperation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, predicting a "significant number of Democrats" would be interested in supporting Trump's agenda.
Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate and will need Democrats' support to push through most legislation. It's unclear, however, the extent to which Republicans are willing to work with Democrats to achieve that goal.
Trump also appeared Saturday to back away from efforts to overhaul the welfare system, which just weeks ago had been identified as one of the White House's top two legislative priorities, along with an infrastructure investment plan.
McConnell had argued that a welfare overhaul was a no-go given Democratic opposition, though Trump said Democrats might still work with them.
"It's a subject that's very dear to our heart," Trump said. "We'll try and do something in a bipartisan way. Otherwise, we'll be holding it for a little bit later."
Republicans are eager to build on the victory achieved late last year with the overhaul of the nation's tax code. But Trump and his GOP allies first must navigate a tricky landscape of leftover legislation from last year that promises to test party unity in the coming weeks -- funding the nation's health insurance program for poor children, offering emergency relief for regions hit by last year's natural disasters, and making an agreement to stabilize health insurance markets under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
But on Friday night, the mood at Camp David was more relaxed. The presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains provides a woodsy respite from Washington.
"There's a feeling here that you don't have in very many places. There was a bonding," Trump said of the visit.
Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, told reporters Saturday that lawmakers and top White House officials had enjoyed "a couple of glasses of wine together last night" and gathered with Trump to watch the new movie The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman.
Information from this article was contributed by Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Bill Allison, Margaret Talev, Laura Litvan and Carolina Millan of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 01/07/2018