The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump: ‘No second thoughts’ on DACA decision

President Trump met with congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Sept. 6. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

After President Trump seemed to waffle on his decision to phase out a program that has granted legal status to nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, the president said Wednesday morning that he has “no second thoughts.”

This was a decision that the president wrestled with, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday, and it's one that he chose not to announce himself, instead delegating that responsibility to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long opposed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Barack Obama started through executive action in 2012.

Trump's campaign was built around the promise to aggressively crack down on illegal immigration by building a wall along the southern border and kicking all undocumented immigrants out of the country — but he has long seemed willing to make an exception for so-called dreamers who were brought to the United States at a young age, grew up here and likely don't know any other way of life. Polling has found that a majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, agree with giving legal status to dreamers.

After struggling with the decision in private, the president's indecision continued to play out in his public comments.

Trump and Republicans face ‘a defining moment’ on immigration

It started with a Tuesday morning tweet that, at the time, seemed to confirm that the president planned to kick the decision over to members of Congress, with Trump writing: “Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!” That prompted a Twitter account that's popular with his followers, @The_Trump_Train, to respond: “Make no mistake, we are going to put the interest of AMERICAN CITIZENS FIRST! The forgotten men & women will no longer be forgotten.” Trump quickly retweeted the comment.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that the Trump administration is rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Three hours later, Sessions gave a strongly worded speech that channeled the president's usually aggressive approach to illegal immigration, with the attorney general declaring: “The compassionate thing to do is end the lawlessness.” Trump quickly followed up with a 901-word statement of his own that said 10 state attorneys general were prepared to sue over the legality of the program and that his administration and various experts had decided that “the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.”

That's a message that Sanders reiterated during an afternoon briefing with reporters, saying that DACA recipients do not need to worry about being deported because they “were not an enforcement priority before and they certainly won't become a priority now.” Sanders would not say what sort of legislation Trump was willing to sign or what exactly he wanted lawmakers to do, and she seemed to suggest that the president wants to see Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform in the next six months, not just address dreamers.  She repeatedly said that this decision was not an easy one for the president and tried to shift responsibility to Congress.

“Part of the reason that this is complicated and one of the reasons he's wrestled with this back and forth, in large part, is because this is not an easy one, and certainly something where he wants to be able to make a decision with compassion,” Sanders said. “But, at the same time, you can't allow emotion to govern. And this has to be something where the law is put in place. And it's something that he would support if Congress puts it before him.”

At the White House briefing, Sept. 5, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly said Congress was elected to pass legislation reforming immigration law. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Later in the afternoon, Obama responded to Trump's decision in a Facebook post, calling it “wrong,” “self-defeating,” “cruel” and politically driven. Not long after, Trump met with congressional leaders to discuss tax revisions and briefly addressed his DACA decision, using much softer language.

“I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them,” the president said of dreamers. “And people think in terms of children, but they're really young adults. I have a love for these people. And hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. And I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And, really, we have no choice. We have to be able to do something. And I think it's going to work out very well. And long term, it's going to be the right solution.”

Obama calls President Trump’s decision to end DACA ‘wrong,’ ‘self-defeating’ and ‘cruel’

Minutes later, a tweet posted on the president's personal account that returned to tough talk: “I look forward to working w/ D's + R's in Congress to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country 1st.”

Hours later, Trump tweeted again and seemed to offer yet another position: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!”

Early Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted about taxes and Hurricane Irma but didn't mention immigration. Later that morning, as he prepared to meet with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders in the Oval Office, a reporter asked the president if he had any second thoughts about his DACA decision.

“No second thoughts,” the president responded.

In the afternoon, the president boarded a flight to North Dakota to deliver a speech on tax reform and briefly answered questions from reporters on board. One reporter asked Trump to respond to those who say there are mixed signals coming from the White House over DACA, to which the president replied: "No mixed signal at all."

He then continued: "Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of this situation. I really believe it -- even very conservative members of Congress. I’ve seen it firsthand. If they don’t, we’re going to see what we’re going to do. But I will tell you, I really believe Congress wants to take care of it... And I said if we can get something to happen, we’re going to sign it and we’re going to make a lot of happy people."

Trump dodged some specific questions about whether or not he wants to provide a  pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients ("That’s going to be discussed later," he said) and what he meant when he said he would revisit the issue in six months ("Well, we’re going to see what happens," he said) and what he wants to see in the legislation he has ordered up ("I’d like to see something where we have good border security, and we have a great DACA transaction, where everybody is happy," he said). Trump added that he would like to see "a permanent deal" when it comes to dreamers, and he's confidant that will happen.

"I think we’re going to have great support from both sides of Congress," he said, "and I really believe that Congress is going to work very hard on the DACA agreement and come up with something."