Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said Monday that she remains optimistic about potential agreements with Washington Republicans on the budget and immigration, though she is skeptical that an upcoming White House meeting on immigration will produce a breakthrough.
The California lawmaker told reporters in her Capitol office that “we just have to come together and we will” on a long-delayed budget pact to boost funding for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies, which face a severe budget crunch otherwise.
She also said that there’s room for compromise on immigration, including protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally, border security and stricter rules sought by Republicans regarding preferential treatment for the relatives of legal immigrants who are seeking to join them in the U.S.
Pelosi spoke just 11 days before a government shutdown deadline and gave a surprisingly optimistic appraisal. Since a White House meeting last week, there has been no obvious progress, and the administration unveiled an $18 billion request for President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall.
She was optimistic about efforts to protect younger immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who face deportation in the wake of Trump’s decision in September to cut off protections given by former President Barack Obama.
“I think we will” get an agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Pelosi said. Asked why, she said, “because we don’t want to shut down government and I don’t think they want to shut down government.”
But Pelosi was wholly dismissive of the chances of progress at a White House meeting on Tuesday, saying it was more of a show than a real negotiation.
“They’re not really inviting the people who have the most skin in the game, who know the issue. Surprising as it may seem to you, the more you know about the issue, the more you can compromise.”
“I don’t need to go to that kind of a meeting,” Pelosi said. “The Republicans in Congress will by and large vote for anything the president supports. So that’s where the negotiations are taking place.”
In the Senate, some Republicans suggested Trump would have to accept compromise on some of his demands.
“I don’t know how much the market will bear. I do want us to get to a solution,” No. 2 GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas told reporters. And Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he favored a broad immigration measure but said, “We can’t do that by March 5. This is a narrower fix.”
Trump has given Congress until March 5 to craft a bill protecting the Dreamers, though he could extend that deadline.
Two junior House members, Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Monday they’d agreed to a plan that Hurd said could serve as a “foundation” for bipartisan bargainers seeking an immigration compromise. Congressional aides said party leaders had been kept informed of their work, but the proposals’ impact on ongoing talks was unclear.
Their measure would let certain Dreamers ultimately get permanent or conditional residence, and some could eventually qualify for citizenship. It also directs the government to deploy technology to control the border by 2020 and submit a plan to Congress detailing physical barriers and other steps that could be used.
On other topics, Pelosi sought to steer clear of any boomlet for a presidential campaign for media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who electrified a Hollywood audience at Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards, though she used the question to take a shot at Trump: “I will say this: Oprah has read books.”
Likewise, she steered away from questions raised about Trump’s mental health and fitness as president in the wake of a scathing assessment by author Michael Wolff, who claims Trump aides do not feel he is up to the job of president. Trump himself has called the book “phony” and said it was “full of lies.”
“I’m not going down that path” Pelosi said. “This is a strange situation. People have known it for a while. Now there’s a book.”