WASHINGTON -- Legal experts dispute a claim from some senior Trump administration officials that President Donald Trump lacks the legal authority to extend his own deadline for ending an immigration program that protects nearly 700,000 people from deportation.
Senior White House and Cabinet officials in recent days have sent mixed messages about whether Trump could merely amend a September executive order that gave Congress until March 5 to legalize the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
There is no consistency in the administration's stance, with lawmakers and experts saying the various messages only further cloud an already murky legal question.
In one camp are Trump and officials like press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders signaling the president could merely change that deadline if lawmakers and White House negotiators need more time to strike an immigration deal. Some legal experts argue he could do so through a new executive order.
But in another are immigration hard-liners like White House chief of staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. They have stated the president lacks the legal authority to alter his own deadline, a stance echoed in conversations with other White House aides.
But some legal experts say the office of the presidency possesses the authority to change a program termination deadline set via an executive order. After all, a president would not be altering an existing law.
"The original deadline was arbitrary and he could set another arbitrary deadline," said Andrew Rudalevige, a professor at Maine's Bowdoin College who specializes in studying the presidency.
"While you could argue the DACA program should have ended immediately -- as unlawful -- once you set a transition deadline in the first place, there's no real bar to saying that 'administrative convenience' or some such mandates an extension of that deadline," Rudalevige added.
Another legal source was asked whether the Trump-Sanders camp is on firmer legal ground. She replied: "That's probably true," adding a second executive order amending the first one on DACA likely would be sufficient.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former senior Department of Homeland Security immigration official in the George W. Bush administration, sees no clear legal hurdle that would prevent any president from amending a program-ending order with a new order.