Flake, McSally join talks at White House on DACA, immigration reform

WASHINGTON – Two Arizona lawmakers were among a score of House and Senate members at a White House meeting Tuesday to try to resolve an impasse over immigration reform and the soon-to-expire deferred-deportation program known as DACA.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, were part of the bipartisan group that met Tuesday – just 10 days before the current budget resolution expires.

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have threatened to hold up budget action, which could cause a government shutdown, while President Donald Trump has insisted that Congress will have to approve funding for a border wall to get DACA relief.

Trump did not relent on that demand Tuesday, according to a White House statement on the meeting, which said the administration also wants any DACA bill to include other border-security provisions.

Those include proposals to “close dangerous enforcement loopholes, eliminate the visa lottery program and end chain migration,” according to a statement from White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters.

Neither Flake nor McSally returned calls seeking comment Tuesday, but in a videotaped statement released after the meeting, Flake said he believes lawmakers are “closer to a deal than we were before today.”

Flake, who has said the 800,000 DACA recipients living in the U.S. should be protected, attributed his optimism to the fact that Trump “finally talked more about what he means when he talks about a wall … he said we’re not talking so much about a wall as a fence.”

McSally said during the meeting that she believes a deal for DACA recipients can, and should, be reached before the current program expires March 5. But she said her priority now is to pass a budget by next week to protect funding for the military, according to a C-SPAN video of the meeting.

“We should not be playing politics on this issue, to stop our military from getting the funding that they need,” McSally said on the C-SPAN video.

McSally is one of four House Republicans who plan to offer a bill Wednesday that will address DACA, border security, chain migration, visa overstays, interior enforcement and other areas, said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, according to a White House transcript of the meeting. Details of the bill were not available Tuesday.

The White House meeting comes less than a week after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with top Senate Republicans to solidify the party’s immigration agenda. It was at that meeting where he said any DACA bill “must secure the border with a wall.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called funding a border wall absurd and said the administration instead should fund such programs as hiring new Customs agents, which it has previously denied.

Neither Schumer nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, were among the eight Democrats and 14 Republicans who the White House said attended Tuesday’s meeting. Despite recently strained relations with the administration, Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor that a DACA deal could be reached “if both parties are committed to good-faith negotiations.”

One of the Democrats who was in attendance, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the minority whip, said after the meeting that upcoming talks must produce a deal where DACA is signed into law and stronger border protections are put in place by Jan. 19, the budget deadline.

Flake said meetings have been scheduled Wednesday to continue negotiations, and he’s hopeful. “Now that we have … some guardrails on this thing, it makes things much easier,” he said in his videotaped statement.