President Trump and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are ready to work out a deal on protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But the rank and file of both parties remain skeptical.
After a Chinese food dinner in the White House Wednesday night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they were close to a deal on avoiding deportation of so-called Dreamers.
Other Democratic lawmakers weren't sure that a deal could be worked out, however.
“I don’t think the president actually understands what he’s saying half the time,” said Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona. “I’m afraid that if we strike a deal with him, he’ll go back on his word at any point.”
They were also concerned that including border security measures in the bill to protect Dreamers could lead to other compromises on immigration down the road.
“I think we have to be very leery,” said Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois. “When did the border security stuff get slipped into this conversation and where is it going to lead once the alt-right begins raising their voices?”
Republican lawmakers, meantime, fretted that Trump might come to prefer negotiating with Democrats, especially after the Republican failure on repealing the Affordable Care Act over the summer.
“It’s pretty clear that it’s a warning to Republicans — if we can’t get things done, we’re giving him no choice than to work with the Democrats,” Republican Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania told reporters. “This president did not come here to do nothing. He came here to get things done. If the Republicans aren’t going to get something done, he has no choice but to work in a bipartisan way.”
He added: “And let’s not criticize that, because that’s what everyone claims that they want.”
Trump's decision to work with Schumer and Pelosi marks a reversal in his treatment of the opposition party. Earlier this year, he described Schumer as the Democrats' "head clown" and demanded that Pelosi be investigated for her "close ties to Russia."
But his decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has shielded roughly 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, made some deal-making necessary.
Already, Trump has faced criticism from the right. Breitbart has dubbed the President “Amnesty Don,” while conservatives worried that the DACA talks and a short-term deal to raise the debt limit last week were signs that Trump was cutting the GOP out of the process.
In recent days, Trump has also courted Democratic senators from red states, looking for support for an effort to change the tax code.
“Does the new outreach approach extend to a bipartisan effort on taxes or infrastructure or something big like that? We don’t know,” a Democratic aide tells TIME when asked about Trump’s appeal to Schumer and Pelosi. “I think he simply likes them more, on a personal level.”
Schumer, a New Yorker who knew Trump before he got into elected politics, was also caught on a C-SPAN microphone saying Thursday that Trump "likes me."
But while Trump is talking with Democrats more, a deal has still not been reached.
“These were discussions, not negotiations,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said at a press conference. “There isn’t an agreement.” He also noted that any legislation will have to pass through both chambers of a Republican-controlled Congress — a cynicism shared by some congressional Democrats.
Rank-and-file Republicans also noted that it was premature to draw conclusions.
“There is no agreement,” Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia told reporters. “What’s there to talk about? I doubt it’s gonna happen. But I’m a ‘no’ on it.”
“I’m not going to get into whether I trust or distrust the President,” added Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama. “The President has the right to speak with whomever he wishes. I just hope he chooses to exercise good judgment and understand that if you give amnesty to illegal aliens, then the long-term effect is to have more illegal aliens taking jobs from American citizens who very badly need them.”
Others were a bit more cynical. “Ultimately, having to go to Chuck Schumer to do something that’s ostensibly Republican will be the death of the Republican agenda,” said Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona.
With reporting by Maya Rhodan