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By Leigh Ann Caldwell
WASHINGTON — With Donald Trump working to keep his party unified in the government shutdown battle, some Senate Republicans have begun discussing expanding negotiations over the wall to include additional immigration issues, such as relief for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The conversation, mostly involving Republicans, picked up steam on Wednesday as the stalemate over the government shutdown and the border wall showed no signs of easing. While the discussions might be aimed at solving a number of long-standing immigration reform issues, they also risk stirring a backlash from conservatives who believe DACA relief to be a form of amnesty, and on the left from those who don’t want it used as a negotiating tool.
“There is some discussions about whether a bigger deal could be negotiated that would include money for border security,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said after Trump met with Senate Republicans over lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has formed a working group of senators to discuss a broader immigration deal. The starting point would be the Bridge Act, which provides legal work permits for people eligible for DACA relief in exchange for $25 billion for the wall.
Graham hosted the first meeting in his office Wednesday afternoon. Attendees included those who have expressed unease over the shutdown, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has stepped into a leading White House role on the shut down, is also in attendance.
No Democrats joined the meeting but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met with Graham privately. Manchin said Graham presented some ideas to move the negotiations forward.
One Republican senator said that after a conversation with the president at the White House, the president appeared open to including DACA in wall negotiations to reopen the government. The senator, who didn’t want to be identified because they are relaying private conversations, said they spoke to Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about including the issue of Temporary Protected Status. The Trump administration has ended TPS, or legal status, for at least 200,000 Central Americans and Haitians.
But Democrats have indicated that they don’t want to bring DACA into discussions, in part, because they don’t trust the president in negotiations.
During a previous negotiation on immigration, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said negotiating with Trump is like “negotiating with Jell-O” because after what appears to be a tentative agreement the president has backtracked. “If he has trouble with this, imagine how much trouble he’ll have with a bigger solution,” Schumer said Wednesday about the prospect of broadening out the negotiations.
And the right is likely to immediately oppose a deal that includes DACA. Last week, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted that “NOTHING could be worse than another amnesty.”
Garrett Haake contributed.
Mueller makes last-minute request for aide to appear with him during his testimony
One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s longtime aides will appear alongside him during his highly-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, a spokesperson said Tuesday, but is not expected to be sworn in.
Mueller’s team made a last-minute request that Aaron Zebley be sworn in and testify with him during his scheduled hearings before Congress on Wednesday, a congressional source familiar with the request told NBC News.
Mueller is slated to testify on his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the country’s influence on President Donald Trump for three hours before the House Judiciary Committee, take a break, then appear for at least two additional hours before the House Intelligence Committee.
For the first hearing, Zebley will sit alongside Mueller as his counsel, according to the Judiciary Committee spokesperson. The committee, however, is not updating its guidance to include Zebley as a witness. This means that Zebley will not be sworn in. Mueller can confer with him as he is questioned by the panel, according to committee rules, but cannot answer questions.
The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said Tuesday that GOP members had “not gotten assurances from the House Democrats on the committee that he [Zebley] will not speak.”
“He’s not supposed to speak in that role to anyone on the committee or asked questions. And we’re asking, and, frankly, that that be confirmed before the hearing. So we don’t have to waste time with it tomorrow,” Collins said.
Jim Popkin, Mueller’s spokesperson, disputed the idea that Zebley’s presence at the hearings amounted to an 11th-hour addition.
“Aaron Zebley was the Deputy Special Counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the Office,” Popkin said in a statement Tuesday. “He will accompany Special Counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday during a conversation at the Center for American Progress that his panel was still working out what Zebley’s function might be.
Trump lashed out about Zebley’s role in Mueller’s testimony, tweeting Tuesday night that the decision “very unfair.”
“Just got back only to hear of a last minute change allowing a Never Trumper attorney to help Robert Mueller with his testimony before Congress tomorrow,” Trump said. “What a disgrace to our system. Never heard of this before.”
Zebley is especially close to Mueller, serving as his chief of staff at the FBI when Mueller was the director. Zebley is also an alumnus of the law firm WilmerHale, where Mueller worked after leaving the FBI.
Zebley followed Mueller to the Justice Department when he was tapped to be special counsel in 2017. Zebley is also a former FBI agent who was involved in an international hunt for al Qaeda terrorists before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In June, Mueller agreed to testify before Congress about his Russia investigation after he was subpoenaed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary, and Schiff.
Popkin said Monday that the former special counsel will make a brief opening statement when he testifies about his 22-month investigation, and will offer his 448-page report as his full statement for the record.
In May, Mueller stressed at a press conference that if he were called to testify he would stick closely to his written report. “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made,” he said.
“We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
In a letter on Monday, the Justice Department also issued stern guidance to Mueller, stating that “any testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.”
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