Trump and senators get the ball rolling on new immigration talks

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump had two separate meetings with senators after the chamber reached a deal to end the U.S. government shutdown.
  • Lawmakers hope to reach a deal on a bipartisan immigration bill before the funding expires on Feb. 8.
Sen. Bill Cassidy: If we can focus on important immigration issues, a deal can get done
Sen. Bill Cassidy: If we can focus on important immigration issues, a deal can get done

President Donald Trump started fresh immigration talks with senators on Monday as bipartisan lawmakers struck a deal to end the U.S. government shutdown that hinged largely on their ability to reach an immigration compromise.

Trump "continued conversations on the next steps on responsible immigration reform" during a lunch with Republican senators Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. The president will work with bipartisan lawmakers "committed to fixing our broken immigration system," she said.

Here's who attended the first meeting, according to Sanders:

  • Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas
  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
  • Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
  • Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Trump had a second meeting on immigration later in the day with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Doug Jones, D-Ala. Those Democrats are notable because they represent two of the deepest red states in the country. Manchin is up for re-election this year.

It is unclear what specifically Trump discussed with the senators at either meeting. White House chief of staff John Kelly and policy aide Stephen Miller — two officials who even some Republicans have criticized for their tough immigration stances — attended both meetings, according to NBC News.

Earlier Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would vote to fund the government until Feb. 8 under the assurance that the chamber would take up an immigration bill by that date, even if lawmakers cannot reach a compromise. Schumer said he was "confident" a bipartisan immigration bill could win 60 votes in the Senate.

Whether such a plan would get the blessing of the White House and more conservative House is more doubtful.

Democrats have pushed to pass a bill to protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation in tandem with government funding, which partly led to Congress' failure to approve a spending plan before Saturday's government shutdown deadline. In an immigration bill, Republicans want increased border security funding and changes to extended family migration and the visa "lottery" system.

The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shielded certain immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and allowed them to work, will start to phase out on March 5. Trump announced his decision to end the program in September.

Earlier this month, Trump told bipartisan lawmakers to strike an immigration deal that he would subsequently sign. Two days later, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., presented him a deal they brokered, but he rejected it.

On Friday, Schumer attempted to negotiate an immigration deal with Trump, to no avail. Kelly called the New York Democrat to tell him his terms were too liberal for the GOP.

Schumer later said he put funding for Trump's proposed border wall on the table. It was previously a dealbreaker for many Democrats, but they have warmed to the proposal as the prospects of an immigration deal became dimmer.

The Republican attendees of Trump's lunch meeting are notable. Cotton has publicly ripped the terms of the Durbin-Graham deal.

Both Cotton and Perdue, Trump allies in the Senate, also stood up for the president after Durbin said he called African nations "s---hole" countries during one of the immigration meetings earlier this month. Graham, on the other hand, did not dispute Durbin's account.

The South Carolina Republican spoke up when Trump made the comments, according to Durbin.

Graham has in recent days torn into White House officials for what he calls Trump's shifting stance on immigration terms.

WATCH: WH says priorities on immigration deal have not changed

White House: Priorities on immigration deal have not changed
White House: Priorities on immigration deal have not changed