MONTPELIER — Vermont Rep. Peter Welch said he believes Republican President Donald Trump wants to ensure there is protected legal status for Dreamers after taking part in a bipartisan meeting with him Wednesday afternoon.
Welch, a Democrat, met with Trump, senior staff and about 14 members of Congress Wednesday afternoon in the Cabinet Room inside the White House. The conversation was largely focused on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The president recently rescinded an executive order issued by former Democratic President Barack Obama that protected from deportation young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought into the country by their parents or guardians as children.
Welch said he was able to share a personal moment with Trump after the meeting and shared the story of a University of Vermont medical student who has dedicated his life to cancer research in other of his mother, who died of cancer.
“When I had a personal interaction after the meeting I showed him a picture of Juan … and gave the president the Juan Conde story,” Welch said. “He’s very sympathetic to Dreamers. He’s said that publicly in other venues, but he repeated that in our meeting.”
Trump’s executive order rescinding the Obama-era order put nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers in jeopardy of deportation beginning March 5, 2018, including 42 living in Vermont.
During the informal meeting, which was conversational, Welch said, the president seemed particularly concerned with Dreamers serving in the U.S. military.
“We’re going to make them go back to some country they’ve never been to?” the president said, according to Welch. “In the meeting he said, ‘That’s not right.’”
Trump has sent conflicting messages about his position on the Dreamers. After issuing his own order, the president called on Congress to pass a legislative solution to protect the young immigrants. Welch said the president is looking to balance what he seems to want to do with the hardline positions of the base that elected him.
“Personally, he knows that it’s the right thing to protect them and politically he knows that there’s a lot of support,” Welch said. “But he also owes a major part of the energy behind his election to his extremely aggressive position on immigration.”
Welch said Trump will likely “get grief from a minority” if he signs legislation protecting the Dreamers, “but he’d get enormous support from the American people.” The congressman noted that conservative media is already bashing the president, including Breitbart News that used the headline “Amnesty Don” on a story Wednesday.
“What I think is he definitely wants to get protected status for the Dreamers, but whether he’ll be willing to make the hard choice to stand up to the extremely aggressive anti-immigration crowd remains to be seen,” Welch said.
Welch said some of his Republican colleagues made the case to the president that DACA should be linked to funding for a border wall that Trump promised during the campaign. Welch said he made the opposite case.
“I made the case to the president that we should not link the two together and said the Dreamers are people who had no responsibility for how they got there,” Welch said. “It’s huge mistake in politics to link things that shouldn’t be linked. You’re always looking for leverage.”
Part of Welch’s pitch sought to appeal to the president’s personality. Welch said he told Trump that protecting the Dreamers would provide him a “moment and opportunity for him to be Lincolnesque and presidential.”
The president did not make any commitment to pursue DACA protections separate from the border wall.
“The president pushed back a little bit on that. He said he’s got to have border security. He didn’t link the two together and he didn’t bring up the wall, but what he said, in effect, is that there’s a lot of people who disagree. The inference was that he’s paying attention to that disagreement,” Welch said.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dined with the president Wednesday night. Following the meeting they issued a statement saying they had struck a deal with Trump to pursue protections for Dreamers and border security, but it did not include funding for a border wall. The White House disputed that, however.
Welch said the White House’s conflicting messaging makes it hard to determine where the president will ultimately end up.
“They thought they had an agreement with him that would not directly link protection with border security,” Welch said. “Then the White House backs away from that and then embraces it.”
Trump is “the improvisational president,” Welch said.
“What ever happens in the moment is good for as long as that moment lasts,” he said. “Trust but verify, definitely. Trust but double verify.”