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Deal Or No Deal? Confusion Swirls Over Trump's Supposed DACA Deal With Democrats

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last night at the White House, President Trump dined on Chinese food with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer. The top two Democrats in Congress left saying they and Trump had a deal to put DACA into law. That's the Obama-era program protecting about 800,000 people in the U.S. illegally who came here as children. Then early this morning, Trump made clear that deal is far from final. Many people are confused, including Trump's Republican allies in Congress. NPR's Scott Detrow has the play-by-play.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: For a week it's been all about Chuck and Nancy. That's how President Trump repeatedly referred to Pelosi and Schumer in the wake of last week's surprise decision to side with the Democrats on a debt ceiling debate. Chuck and Nancy seems to be sinking in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: As Chuck and I - as leader Schumer and I said coming out of the meeting.

DETROW: Pelosi's talking about the meeting she and Schumer had at the White House last night. The two Democrats emerged with what seemed like major news. Schumer recapped it on the Senate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: We all agreed on a framework to pass DACA protections and additional border security measures, excluding the wall.

DETROW: Now, the White House initially pushed back, saying no deal's been finalized and that Trump never took the wall out of negotiations. But as his helicopter's blades whirred on the White House lawn this morning, Trump confirmed Schumer and Pelosi's claims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen. You have 800,000 young people brought here, no fault of their own. So we're working on a plan. We'll see how it works out.

DETROW: And Trump told reporters the wall would come later. So it seemed like yet again Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan were out of the loop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: There's no agreement. The president and the chief of staff called me from Air Force One today to discuss what was discussed. And it was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation.

DETROW: But as Ryan pointed out, he didn't hear about it until the next morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RYAN: There will be a compromise. We believe this will occur. And this compromise will include border security and enforcement so that we don't wind up with another DACA problem 10 years down the road.

DETROW: And that's essentially what Trump and the Democrats agreed to, though a lot of the details still need to be worked out, some of them pretty major. And there's no timetable for when it could come to a vote. Still, this left Republicans in Congress once again answering questions about why a Republican president was dealing with Democrats and not his own party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOU BARLETTA: I do understand that he's very frustrated in how things are not getting done. You know, hence he's, you know, talking with the Democrats.

DETROW: This is Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARLETTA: But what's he supposed to do if he can't get anything done here? He didn't come here to do nothing. He came here to keep his promises. He's a businessman.

DETROW: Barletta built his political career on hardline immigration stances. He says he's sympathetic to DACA enrollees, but he also wants to see a border wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARLETTA: Doing a legalization first and a promise of enforcement second doesn't work out so well.

DETROW: In public, many congressional Republicans sound like Barletta. But in private, many say they're just confused by what Trump's strategy is here. Iowa Republican Steve King says Trump needs to be careful. The president's core supporters are loyal, he says, but many of them are just like King. They don't want to compromise at all on immigration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE KING: They came onboard because build a wall, enforce the border, enforce immigration law, no amnesty ever. And if they see amnesty coming out of the White House, then that's the one thing that will crack his base.

DETROW: Maybe Trump heard the criticism because by the afternoon his emphasis was on what he's not doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're not looking at citizenship. We're not looking at amnesty. We're looking at allowing people to stay here. We're working with...

DETROW: And by doing that, the president is suddenly moving to the left of many in his own party. That leaves Republican lawmakers with a tough choice - back their president or stick to a default conservative position that animates their base of voters. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.