House Republican leaders’ plan was for President Trump to meet with House Republicans at the Capitol on Tuesday night, for him to tell them that their “compromise” immigration bill was the greatest bill in legislative history and that he would sign it with a tremendous pen, and for the president to provide the assurances members have been looking for since last week, when he said he “certainly” would not sign it.
So. Did President Trump explicitly and proudly endorse this immigration bill negotiated by moderates and conservatives, the only one of the two the House will vote on this week that has a chance to pass?
“I guess,” North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones told reporters. He found it “hard to follow everything [Trump] says. He’s kind of like a bouncing ball.”
New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance, when asked whether Trump endorsed the bill, said sure, but that was only his “understanding” of what Trump did.
Even Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo—one of the principal moderates who negotiated the bill—couldn’t say squarely that Trump said he would sign the measure. Instead the congressman said that Trump “indicated” he would and, later, that Curbelo was “pretty sure” he would.
“It wasn’t unequivocal, ‘this is the greatest bill ever,’ ” Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said. “It was, ‘this is better than nothing.’ ”
“He said we need to pass the bill. A bill,” Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello said.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, at least, heard a firm endorsement of the compromise measure. It’s not clear, though, whether Diaz-Balart heard this before or after Trump said that he likes him better than his brother, Jose Diaz-Balart, the Telemundo and NBC News anchor.
Such asides from Trump more accurately reflected the general tenor of the meeting than the president’s slippery enunciation of his immigration policy preferences did. Like Walter Jones, many members were confused about what the president did or didn’t endorse in part because they couldn’t keep up with Trump’s rambling about North Korea, trade, the tax bill, Mario Diaz-Balart’s cable-news brother, and occasionally immigration.
“The hour was not on immigration,” a grinning Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei said. “The hour was on the last 24 months.”
One of the first things Trump did was roast South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford who, to Trump’s pleasure, lost his primary last week. He said, according to several of the members, something along the lines of, “Is Mark Sanford here? Congratulations on running a good campaign,” and then referred to him as a “nasty guy.” Sanford was not in the room, but the scene was “awkward,” Costello said.
“It made me mad as hell,” Jones said. I asked if anyone booed Trump, and Jones said that “a few of us”—and then appeared to make a hissing noise.
The defenders of Mark Sanford’s pride were not the only ones to take issue with the president Tuesday night. A slew of Democratic members, largely from the Hispanic Caucus, protested the president and his entourage on their way out of the basement over the administration’s family separation policy. (The president told members in the meeting that his daughter, Ivanka, had urged him to find a solution to family separation. Since Trump did not end his policy of family separation after the conversation, though, she appears to have been immediately unsuccessful.)
No members asked Trump a question, since there wasn’t any opportunity to fit one in. At least, some members said, Trump did not recommend any changes to the bill, as he had said he might do earlier in the day. Republicans leaders will now begin whipping support for the bill, which is tentatively set for a vote on Thursday.