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Lawmakers Working On Immigration, Government Funding As Deadline Looms


Two top senators say they are not giving up on a bipartisan immigration deal even though President Trump says he doubts it will get done. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin are part of a small group of lawmakers who have been working to extend protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. And their deadline is coming soon.

Trump announced March 5 as the end of the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. And in a moment, we'll talk to someone who's protected by the DACA program about what all this political uncertainty means for him. First, here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Last week, President Trump torpedoed a tentative deal to help the beneficiaries of DACA. It was during that meeting that he reportedly used a vulgar slur to describe African countries. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham confronted the president during that meeting. And today, Graham told WIS Television Trump should not walk away from a bargain.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Mr. President, close the deal. Eighty percent of Americans want to get the DACA kids a better life, and 80 percent of Americans want to secure our border and change a broken immigration system. It's going to take you, Mr. President, to get this done.

HORSLEY: Less than a week ago, Trump seemed eager to strike a deal. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin was part of a group of about two dozen lawmakers who met with the president.


DICK DURBIN: If you'll remember our little Kumbaya moment, it was only last Tuesday when I sat next to the president and he said the following. You send me a bill, and I'll sign it. Remember?

HORSLEY: But just two days later, the president rejected the compromise that Graham and Durbin had painstakingly worked out, one that would have given permanent protection to DACA recipients in exchange for stepped-up border security and an end to the visa lottery that Trump dislikes. It was during that session that Trump reportedly unloaded on African countries with language that Durbin called vile, hate-filled and racist.

At first, the White House did not deny the president's remarks, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who was in the room, issued a carefully worded statement saying he didn't recall such comments. Cotton's memory sharpened by Sunday, though, when he offered a more definitive account to John Dickerson on CBS.


TOM COTTON: I did not hear derogatory comments about...

JOHN DICKERSON: But the sentiment...

COTTON: ...Individuals or persons, no.

DICKERSON: OK, so your - this sentiment is totally phony as well that is attributed to him.


HORSLEY: Fellow Republican Lindsey Graham appeared to pour cold water on Cotton's denial today. Graham told the Post and Courier newspaper, my memory hasn't evolved; I know what was said. Durbin is not backtracking either.


DURBIN: I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said in terms of that meeting. I'm focused on one thing - not that meeting but on making sure that those who are being protected by DACA and eligible for the DREAM Act have a future in America. I'm focused on that full-time.

HORSLEY: On Twitter this afternoon, Trump argued deals can't get made when there is no trust. Speaking to reporters at his Florida golf club yesterday, Trump insisted if the DACA agreement fails, it's Durbin and the Democrats' fault.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA. But I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. And the folks from DACA should know the Democrats are the ones that aren't going to make a deal.

HORSLEY: But Durbin says he's heard from other Republicans who are eager to move forward. On this Martin Luther King holiday, he's urging them to act quickly.


DURBIN: This is the civil rights issue of our time. Silence is unacceptable. Stand up. Speak up if you believe that we need to have justice.

HORSLEY: Durbin would like to see an immigration deal by Friday in time to bundle it with must-pass spending legislation and avoid a government shutdown. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.