US President Donald Trump says he is open to a comprehensive immigration deal that would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, signaling he will “take the heat” for what appears to be a major shift from his harsh campaign rhetoric.
Trump made the remarks Tuesday during a public negotiating session with congressional Republicans and Democrats who are considering a short-term deal that would grant legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
“I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with,” he said. “If they come to me with things that I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it, because I respect them.”
The president agreed to a framework for an immigration deal to couple protection for young immigrants with border security and a down payment for his proposed border wall, suggesting he was willing to take on his own political base.
“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat,” Trump said. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
“When this group comes back with an agreement … I’m signing it,” he said. “I mean, I will be signing it. I’m not going to say ‘oh gee, I want this or I want that.’ I’ll be signing it.”
The White House had initially said the meeting would be closed to the press, but in a surprise move more than half of the session played out on national television as Trump engaged with roughly two dozen lawmakers on one of the most heated issues in Washington.
The White House is currently working to extend legal status for young undocumented immigrants whose protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are set to expire on March 5.
“We’re certainly open to talking about a number of other issues when it comes to immigration,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters when asked if the president is “firmly committed” to a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, a federal judge ordered the administration to resume accepting renewal applications for DACA.
In a ruling Tuesday evening, San Francisco-based US District Court judge William Alsup said the conclusion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the program was illegal appeared to be “based on a flawed legal premise.”
Unless overturned by a higher court, the ruling will allow former DACA recipients who failed to renew by an October 5 deadline to submit renewal applications.
The thorny immigration talks are tied to efforts to reach a deal on the federal budget, with the government set to shut down if a bill is not passed by January 19.
Trump scrapped the DACA program — which had been put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama — last year in order to fulfill a campaign promise, much to the delight of his base.