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President Trump Urges GOP To Move Forward With Immigration Bill That's Dividing The Party


Republicans in Congress huddled today with President Trump, Cabinet secretaries and senior White House officials at the party's retreat in West Virginia. They're mapping out the party agenda for 2018. A classified House intelligence committee memo is also dominating conversation among Republicans. They overwhelmingly support its public release. Republicans drafted the memo, and it reportedly makes allegations that senior Justice Department officials abused their authority to spy on the Trump campaign during the 2016 campaign.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is at that retreat and joins us now. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: Republicans have been thought of as the party of law and order. Is there any concern among the ones you're talking to that this memo fight makes them look like they're attacking the credibility of the institutions that they say they trust and respect?

DAVIS: Right. I mean, this is the tricky balance that Republicans are facing. As you noted, overwhelmingly, Republicans in the House are in favor of releasing this memo. They say it could come as early as tomorrow. That includes House Speaker Paul Ryan. We talked to him today. He supports releasing the memo. And like a lot of Republicans, he's trying to make this case - it's not about the men and women of the FBI. This is just about congressional oversight of the executive branch and of national surveillance programs. He said he does not see this memo as in any way impugning the Mueller investigation, although that is certainly not how Democrats see it and certainly not how some in the Justice Department see it.

I do think it's worth noting Senate Republicans have been a lot more cautious here. They are not calling for the release of the memo in the same way House Republicans are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he hasn't even seen it, but he - that he trusts the speaker's judgment.

SHAPIRO: We're going to keep following this memo story. Meanwhile, President Trump also pushed Republicans today to support his immigration proposal. How are Republicans responding to the principles the White House put forth?

DAVIS: There is still a lot of disagreement in the party over what the end goal is here. One of the Republicans we talked today, South Dakota Republican John Thune, said, hey, maybe Republicans need to pare down their expectations and could maybe settle for an even smaller immigration compromise that would just include a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program in exchange for more border security. House conservatives already rejected that out of hand.

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows told us that it was a nonstarter in the House. If there is still no bipartisan agreement here by February 8 - and there is nothing coming out of this retreat that makes me think there will be a bipartisan agreement - Mitch McConnell says he intends to just start an open debate on the floor of the Senate. And his - and in his words, he said, we'll just see who can get 60 votes.

SHAPIRO: OK, so I have to imagine that the 2018 agenda includes avoiding another government shutdown, funding the government in more than three-week increments (laughter). The next deadline, as you said...

DAVIS: I would hope so.

SHAPIRO: ...Is February 8. Are we going to have another shutdown?

DAVIS: You know, they really just have three legislative days to figure this out. The House is only expected to be in session until Tuesday next week. They're going out early to give Democrats their chance to go have their annual retreat. It seems like another stopgap bill is an absolute certainty at this point. It will be the fifth such bill Congress has had to pass since September. Republicans are talking about doing another short-term funding bill into late March. The details are still being worked out. There isn't much appetite for another shutdown, but Democrats are maintaining that they will withhold support for any long-term spending deal that would end these shutdown fights until they get some clarity on how this immigration fight ends.

SHAPIRO: This is also a midterm election year, and I have to imagine that's come up. Are Republicans afraid of losing seats?

DAVIS: You know, the one thing that they keep saying over and over is that the conventional wisdom was wrong about Donald Trump in the party in 2016, and they think it will be again. They are facing historically tough headwinds. They say the party in power in the White House averages something like 30 losses in the House. If Republicans had those kind of losses this November, that would hand control of the House over to Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence was here, and President Trump was here today. Both of them pledged to hit the campaign trail hard this fall. They say that they're going to keep both the House and the Senate, and they're going to campaign on a message of economic revival.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis at the Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.