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'They're cowards': Trump calls out Congress on immigration, fumes 2018 momentum squandered

Anita Kumar and Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The White House is furious that Congress is squandering precious time to accomplish something Republicans and Democrats have already agreed to do -- protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants. According to eight people familiar with the situation, the anger is boiling over as time runs out to complete an immigration deal before the calendar quickly shifts to the midterm elections.

White House aides are eager to strike an immigration deal that will include money for a border wall. That would allow President Donald Trump to hit the campaign trail with his biggest goals accomplished: a rewrite of the nation's tax laws, a repeal of the requirement Americans buy health insurance, a reduction in regulations and action to curtail legal and illegal immigration.

Most of those who spoke about the White House's frustrations did so on the condition of anonymity.

"Congress isn't acting because they don't want to do anything difficult," said a former Trump adviser who is in close contact with the White House. "They're cowards. They haven't had an immigration deal in 30 years."

Chief of Staff John Kelly, while secretary of homeland security, "pleaded" and "begged" lawmakers after the inauguration last year to begin crafting a deal, warning them that an Obama-era program protecting so-called Dreamers would be killed by Trump or a judge, a senior administration official said. He visited the Hispanic caucus three times as well as Asian Pacific American and the Senate Democratic caucuses at least once to make his case.

"The fact is that the Trump administration has been trying to solve the goddamn DACA problem since the day it came in," the official said. "Pleading with them. Using those words. Please ... do something about DACA. It's going to go away. And then it went away."

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Trump announced in September he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, March 5.That gave Congress six months to pass a legislative fix. The White House has been in dozens of meetings with lawmakers from both chambers and parties since then but so far, they have not been able to agree on a broader immigration compromise, including the wall funding, even though both parties long since agreed to protect Dreamers.

"John Kelly has been very open that he has been telling members of Congress for six months or eight months that they have to fix this, even when he was back at homeland security," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is an informal adviser to Trump. "I think he probably feels very close to furious that the administration gets blamed by a bunch of people who can't get the job done."

Some speculate that Trump is criticizing Congress as part of his strategy to deflect blame for the failure to act on this issue. He berates Congress -- usually Democrats -- on Twitter nearly daily about the lack of progress on a deal. On Tuesday, he repeatedly called for a government shutdown if Congress fails to reach a spending deal by Thursday's deadline that also tightens immigration laws.

"If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown," Trump said. "We'll do a shutdown and it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of."

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