President Trump wrapped up a weekend of meetings with Republican congressional leaders at Camp David on Sunday, agreeing on priorities such as higher military spending and a midterm election strategy but facing hardened opposition from Democrats over any immigration amnesty solution that’s tied to funding for a border wall.
The president said he had “transformative” meetings on subjects including infrastructure spending, the expiring amnesty program for young illegal immigrants known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and “the desperately needed wall.”
Mr. Trump discussed with Republican lawmakers their strategy for the midterm elections, with the president saying he won’t campaign for any insurgent Republicans who are challenging GOP incumbents in primaries.
“I don’t see that happening,” Mr. Trump said.
He pointed to the lesson of last month’s special Senate election in Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, at the behest of estranged former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“You had somebody that lost us the state of Alabama,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “That should never have been lost. We have the right policy, we have the right everything. You still need a good candidate. You don’t have a good candidate, you’re just not going to win.”
The party of the president typically loses seats in the midterm elections. In President Obama’s first midterm election in 2010, after Congress approved Obamacare, Democrats lost 63 House seats (and control of the House) and also lost six Senate seats. Gains of even half that size in 2018 would flip each chamber in the Democrats’ favor.
Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Sunday that Republicans are in “big trouble” in the midterms, saying Mr. Trump’s approval rating “is in the high 30s.”
“The Republicans are 24 seats in the House away from losing their majority,” Mr. Rove said on “Fox News Sunday.” “As a result, I think we’re going to see two Republican agendas in 2018. We’re going to see the unified Republican agenda, House, Senate and White House, which is going to focus on infrastructure and maybe a DACA deal and a couple other things. And then we’re going to see a House Republican agenda in which they do tackle things like poverty and welfare and reform so that the members have the ability to go home and say, we passed it, I voted for it and it’s now ‘bollixed’ up in the Senate.”
Mr. Trump said he will be “very much involved” in campaigning for Republicans.
“Protecting incumbents and whoever I have to protect. But we need more Republicans,” the president said. “I will be actually working for incumbents and anybody else that has my kind of thinking. We’re going to make a lot of trips.”
A long list of high-stakes topics were on the agenda at Camp David, from national security and infrastructure to the budget and 2018 midterm election strategy. Democrats were not included in the discussions, although GOP leaders said they believe that Democrats will cooperate more this year.
“We hope that 2018’ll be a year of more bipartisan cooperation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said their plans for infrastructure spending and beefing up the military should appeal “to everyone in-between — Democrats and Republicans, independents.”
Mr. Trump emerged from the weekend discussions at the presidential retreat in Maryland declaring he will not sign legislation protecting about 800,000 young people called “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children unless Congress agrees to fund the wall along the border with Mexico, as well as overhaul the legal immigration system. He is seeking $18 billion in border wall funding.
“We want the wall,” Mr. Trump said. “The wall is going to happen or we’re not going to have DACA.”
The president last year ended the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded Dreamers from deportation and gave them the right to work legally in the country. Mr. Trump gave Congress until March to find a fix.
Top Democrats in Congress called the president’s demands Sunday a non-starter.
“The idea of spending some $18 billion on a wall that most people think will not do what he says it will do, does not make any sense,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, on ABC’s “This Week.” “What we have got to do, it seems to me, is to pass the Dreamer’s legislation, which protects and provides legal status to these young people.”
He said Congress could work on comprehensive immigration reform, including tougher border security, “later on.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, has called the president’s funding request “outrageous” and said he could be trying to provoke a government shutdown.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a White House ally on immigration policy, said on “This Week” that immigration legislation also must address ending “chain migration” among family members and a diversity visa lottery program “to stop unskilled and low skilled immigration coming into this country.”
“I hope the Democrats will come off their unreasonable negotiating position and be willing to compromise,” Mr. Cotton said.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a piecemeal approach to border security won’t solve the country’s problems with illegal immigration.
“If we don’t deal with security and with chain migration, we will be back with a DACA issue in a few years and that’s the wrong thing for America to do,” the California Republican said on Fox News. “We need to maintain the rule of lawdeal with those individuals that were brought here by no fault of their own, but actually have border security so it does not happen again.”
• S.A. Miller and Bradford Richardson contributed to this report.
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