Reuters/White Sulphur Springs, Western Virginia
US Republicans will turn their attention to infrastructure and immigration issues, President Donald Trump said on Thursday, blaming Democrats for failing to help young "Dreamer" immigrants even as disunity simmered around the issue in his own party.
The president was due to make an appearance later on Thursday at a retreat for congressional Republicans aimed at rallying around legislative priorities before congressional elections in November that will be seen as a referendum on the party's ability to govern and on Trump's presidency.
With control of the White House and both chambers in Congress, Republicans had mixed legislative success last year: enacting a $1.5tn tax overhaul but failing to make good on a key campaign promise to repeal and replace former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
Congress has also failed to pass a long-term budget, instead relying on a number of temporary spending bills and briefly falling short of doing even that last month, which led to a three-day government shutdown. Current funding for federal agencies runs out February 8.
Immigration in particular has become a thorny issue for both Republicans and Democrats. Former businessman Trump found political success in large part because of his tough campaign stance toward immigrants. But in office he has sometimes been inconsistent in expressing his policy aims, or has been at odds with some in his own party.
"Will be planning Infrastructure and discussing Immigration and DACA, not easy when we have no support from the Democrats," Trump wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning, ahead of a scheduled trip to speak later in the day to lawmakers at the retreat in West Virginia.
Last year, Trump cancelled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created under Obama to prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. He gave Congress until early March to draft a solution for the roughly 700,000 DACA recipients known as "Dreamers."
Last month, Trump urged protections to even more Dreamers outside the DACA program, offering a path to citizenship to up to 1.8 million young immigrants in the country illegally.
But Trump proposed tying this to terms that are unpalatable to Democrats - slashing the family sponsorship of immigrants, and ending a diversity visa lottery. He also sought tightening border security, including billions of dollars to fund his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.
Democrats and many Republicans in the Senate support protecting the Dreamers, but the measure faces more resistance in the House of Representatives, where some Republicans have balked at a path to citizenship.
"March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Democrats are doing nothing about DACA," Trump said on Twitter. "They Resist, Blame, Complain and Obstruct - and do nothing. Start pushing Nancy Pelosi and the Dems to work out a DACA fix, NOW!" he said, referring to the House Democratic leader.
Senator John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, said a bipartisan immigration deal could address DACA and border security but not family-sponsored immigration or the visa lottery.
"I think that if we can solve DACA and border security that may be the best I can hope for," Thune told reporters.
But Representative Mark Meadows, head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said a pared back deal would be a "non-starter" with conservative House Republicans.
"Listen, we are not going to do a few billion dollars for border security and have the same problem a decade from now, two decades from now," Meadows told reporters. "If we’re going to solve the problem, let’s solve the problem."
Meadows suggested the White House could extend the DACA expiration deadline to allow more time for broader immigration legislation.
All 435 seats in the House and about a third of the 100-seat Senate are at stake in November's election. More than 40 Republicans, including nine committee chairmen, have announced they are leaving Congress or will not seek re-election.