House Republicans were in full-on damage control Friday morning as they sought to downplay President Donald Trump’s comments that he wouldn’t support the GOP compromise bill.
After a day of confusion that threatened the future of the legislation, the White House issued a statement on the record that Trump supported the bill along with a more conservative piece of legislation.
“The President fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill. In this morning’s interview, he was commenting on the discharge petition in the House, and not the new package. He would sign either the Goodlatte or the leadership bills,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement.
More on immigration
After toiling away for weeks on a hard-fought compromise bill that tackled border security and even delivered Trump his campaign promise of a border wall, Republican aides and members involved in the discussions were taken aback by the President’s impromptu interview with Fox News on the White House lawn where Trump insinuated he wouldn’t support a bill that had been negotiated with his administration’s involvement. Many members were desperate to believe that the President had either been referring to another bill or would reverse course later in the day – while conservatives cheered the President as rightfully demanding changes to the bill.
One White House official who was watching the interview in a room with others said there were audible gasps when the President made the comment as staff immediately realized the potential consequences of the President’s remarks.
On Friday afternoon, Trump tweeted, but it did little to settle the question of where he officially stood on the compromise legislation.
“The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!” Trump tweeted.
Before the on-the-record statement, the White House official told CNN on Friday after the tweet that Trump did indeed support the House compromise immigration bill, despite saying otherwise in the morning. The same person admitted that Trump’s tweet had done little to clarify his position.
The official also said that congressional leadership had reached out to the White House to express their unhappiness with the President’s comments.
The White House official said Trump “misunderstood” the question on Fox about the moderate immigration bill and that the President thought he was referring to another moderate effort, a rare procedural move known as a discharge petition that would have forced a series of immigration votes on the House floor including on bills that didn’t have the backing of GOP leaders.
The lack of clarity led GOP leaders to put their plans for the bill on hold.
One GOP whip aide told CNN, “It’s pretty basic. We aren’t going to whip anything unless it has Trump’s support. That’s why we need more clarity.”
The confusion engulfed the House chamber during the last vote series of the week and was emblematic of an exercise that members have managed before during tax revisions and health care where Trump famously held a celebration of an Obamacare repeal bill in the White House Rose Garden only to turn around and call the bill “mean” later.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a moderate Republican from Florida, told reporters that he was confident Trump would sign the legislation.
“I think it’s important for everybody to take a deep breath, look at the bill, judge it on its merits, not what people are saying about the bill,” Diaz-Balart said.
But the entire episode revealed how often Republicans expect Trump to change his mind.
Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told CNN that he believed Trump’s earlier comments were not necessarily definitive.
“With the text just coming out (Thursday) who knows what kind of full briefing there has been on it. I think the part of it he will like is the trigger mechanism that if the appropriation, funding and the spending on the wall is not delivered on then there is no other part of the bill,” Walker said.
“He keeps us all excited about how we are going to get things done,” Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican from Florida and supporter of the compromise bill, told CNN.
Conservatives, meanwhile, said the President was rightly demanding more aggressive measures. Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said the President was right to voice opposition to the compromise bill and said he hopes Trump doesn’t walk back his statement.
“I think he’s correctly gauging where the American people are on the issue and informing the legislature that they’ve got to go back and do some more work,” Perry said.
Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was adamant the President was not confused about which bill he was talking about.
“That is not accurate,” he said.