President Trump voiced tentative support Tuesday for immigration legislation ahead of his address to a joint session of Congress, potentially opening up a new and contentious debate as he also vows to tackle health care, taxes and the economy.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as both sides are willing to compromise,” Trump said at a lunch with news anchors.
He reportedly is open to considering a pathway to legal status for some illegal immigrants. But it’s unclear how far Trump might press the issue in his address Tuesday night, as he also pushes for increased border security and other priorities.
The hint at renewing the immigration reform debate in Congress drew a mixed response late Tuesday from Senate leaders.
Asked about the prospect, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “If he’s got an idea, we’d be happy to take a look at it.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., voiced doubt. “He’s got a lot to undo, I mean, the immigrant community is rightfully scared, of what President Trump has done,” he said.
The speech comes at critical moment, as Trump tries to galvanize a Congress that, despite being under full Republican control, still has not advanced legislation to deal with key campaign vows to replace the Affordable Care Act and reform the tax system. He is under pressure Tuesday to unite party allies behind a common agenda.
On ObamaCare, some Republicans already have seized on a leaked repeal plan draft to blast GOP leaders’ efforts. Conservatives like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Mark Walker, R-N.C., both have criticized the outline, including its treatment of tax credits.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s speech, House Speaker Paul Ryan played down divisions.
“This is a plan that we are all working on together,” he told reporters. “There aren’t rival plans here. … We’re going to be unified on this.”
But Ryan, at a separate briefing, voiced some concerns about Trump’s approach to the federal budget – a day after White House officials previewed a plan to boost military spending by $54 billion, cut other agency budgets by the same amount and leave entitlements like Medicare untouched.
Asked about the president’s apparent reluctance to cut entitlements, Ryan said, “There is an open question on long-term entitlement reform.”
Trump’s forthcoming budget faces pitfalls on other fronts, as some defense hawks think it doesn’t go far enough to rebuild the military, deficit hawks think it doesn’t go far enough to cut spending and others are worried about cuts to nondefense accounts.
Hours before the speech, McConnell cast doubt on whether the Senate could pass a budget proposal that seeks steep cuts to the State Department, one of the ways Trump might fund the increase for the military.
Aside from internal GOP tensions over legislative goals, Trump continues to grapple with numerous leaks from inside his administration and intermittent staffing controversies that most prominently included Michael Flynn resigning as national security adviser over apparently misleading Vice President Pence on past contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Multiple media reports, which Trump repeatedly decries as bogus, have raised questions about additional contacts between his allies and Moscow – another issue that has divided Republicans, with some seeking an independent probe and others rejecting those calls. And most immediately, Trump’s team is looking to rewrite and reissue his controversial executive order suspending the refugee program and admissions from seven mostly Muslim countries, after it was blocked in court amid widespread protests.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and Bret Baier contributed to this report.