White House Chief of Staff John Kelly went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on immigration — and according to lawmakers and sources both in the room and briefed on the meeting — told the group that President Donald Trump's campaign promises on immigration were not fully informed and that the U.S. would not construct a wall on the border with Mexico "from sea to shining sea."
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“He said the promises of the campaign and governance are two different things, you guys are all elected officials, you know that,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. recalled Kelly telling the group.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said in a statement, "I can confirm that Chief of Staff Kelly said today that the president’s campaign was not fully informed about the wall he was promising to voters."
Gutierrez and other sources familiar with the meeting said Kelly took credit for "educating the president" on a border wall and for some of Trump's shifting positions on Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Asked about the meeting in a Fox News interview, Kelly said Trump has changed the way he looks at issues since becoming president. "He has evolved in the way he's looked at things. Campaigns and governing are two different things," Kelly said.
Kelly said he told the lawmakers people say things "during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed."
"There are places where geographically, a wall would not be realistic. There are other parts of the southwest border that are so wild and untamed that there is no traffic that goes through them, " he said on Fox. "There are other places we think about 800 miles additional wall to include the 600 that's already in place — the fencing — that would suffice."
Speaking to ABC News, Kelly said, "There are many places on the border that the professionals in Customs and Border Protection — men and women who work the border every day – can tell you exactly where they need more fencing or more barrier, and that’s what the president is seeking to do."
"That, combined with closing some of the loopholes, the draw if you will — because the average person that is coming to the U.S. illegally, whether they come by visa and overstay, or sneak through the southwest, they understand that our really, really ineffective immigration laws, essentially allow them to stay indefinitely," Kelly told ABC News.
Trump tweeted Thursday, "The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it."
The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
....The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
Some lawmakers said they left the meeting with Kelly unsure of what President Trump wants to see in a deal to find a permanent legislative fix to DACA — the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program begun as an executive action under President Obama but which President Trump has ordered ended.
One lawmaker questioned whether they can trust the White House to negotiate in good faith.
"Trump's a wild card," Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat, said. "There's no track record to be able to trust the White House on immigration."
Republicans who spoke with Kelly on Wednesday were more optimistic.
"What I was looking for was that firm commitment to make sure that all of the DACA population at least is taken care of,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., told reporters after meeting with Kelly and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen.
“The administration considers this one of its goals and I was very encouraged,” Curbelo said.
In another tweet Thursday, Trump reiterated his position on immigration reform saying, "If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!"
We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018