President Trump is at a crossroads with regard to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, the Obama-era initiative the president just rescinded that protected nearly 800,000 undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. when they were young. And instead of picking one path to go down, he seems to be trying to jog down both sides at once, which has brought fury and confusion to those on all sides of this debate.
After dining on Chinese food at the White House with the top two Democrats in Congress Wednesday evening, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi were giddy. They sent out a joint statement stating the trio had "agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides."
Around 10 p.m., the Associated Press reported a deal had been cut. Conservatives were enraged that the president had abandoned his signature campaign promise to be a tough, anti-immigrant commander-in-chief.
White House aides frantically tried to dispel the notion that any grand bargain had been struck. But the damage was done, and the alt-right and conservatives alike were enraged. The feeling of betrayal from the far-right was palpable early Thursday morning, as Breitbart splashed its banner with "Amnesty Don."
Trump seems to have gotten the message and responded with reassuring tweets meant to placate his enraged base.
No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
But the president also doesn't seem to want to alienate Democrats on the issue and come across as cold-hearted for going after young immigrants, many of whom only remember life in the U.S. So, as he boarded Marine One on his way to survey hurricane damage in Florida Thursday, he reassured reporters he's still committed to finding a way to reinstate some variation of the very program he just nixed.
"We're working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen," Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. "You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we're working on a plan, we'll see how it works out. We're going to get massive border security as part of that. And I think something can happen, we'll see what happens, but something will happen."
That left heads spinning on Capitol Hill, where some of Trump's most ardent conservative supports say the president's changing tone on DACA is worrying them.
"Yes, it does," Republican Rep. Steve King tells Rolling Stone. "This has been about, for me – for more than 30 years – about restoring the respect for the rule of law, and we're on the cusp of being able to do that, and then this gets thrown out into the middle of the mix. And all he had to do was just keep his campaign promise, which we all expected would happen January 20th."
King comes from a sprawling Iowa district, where he says many of his constituents will stand by Trump despite the unpopular positions he may take – up to a point.
"There's a certain Trump base that, they will never leave him for anything – they've proved that – provided he maintains his position on immigration," King says. "I think there's one thing that will destroy his base, and that's amnesty."
Other conservatives fear the deal-maker-in-chief has become enamored by the positive coverage he received last week for undercutting GOP leaders and striking a bipartisan deal with Democrats on a massive economic package. That's why they're warning Trump not to forget who put him in the White House.
"The Trump voter is not in favor of amnesty," Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, the leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, tells Rolling Stone. "That is a very complex issue but certainly is one that we're not going to solve in one dinner with two Democrats."
Still, it seems Republican leaders have once again been sidelined by Trump, who is angry at them for failing to carry through on the party's promise to repeal and replace Obamacare or send him any meaningful bills to sign.
"I want to know about the deal last night," one reporter told House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy as he briskly walked through the Capitol Thursday.
"Me too," he responded.
"What actually happened?"
"I don't know. I haven't talked to him yet. I've got to find out," McCarthy replied.
As Republican leaders once again were left scratching their heads, and conservatives fumed, the president tried to do damage control. He reached out to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who relayed the party's new talking points.
"There is no agreement – the chief of staff and the president called me from Air Force One to tell me what was discussed, and it was a discussion and not an agreement," Ryan told reporters at the Capitol. "These were discussions. Not negotiations."
But Democratic leaders say the president has paved the way for resolving the bipartisan issue. They think Trump is honestly in their corner, even while he tries to navigate his hardline anti-immigration supporters, which is resulting in mixed signals on Twitter, in interviews and in private phone calls.
"The base had a pretty strong reaction yesterday and that may have been it, but still he said good things about DACA too," Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate, tells Rolling Stone. "It's still an active negotiation, and I have a positive feeling towards it. We're not there yet."
But now rank-and-file Democrats fear their party leaders may be the ones getting duped. In exchange for solving DACA, the president is demanding ramped-up border security, and while Democrats say they have already taken funding for a physical wall off the table, they may be willing to support sending more agents to the border along with additional drones and other border-security enhancements. As a part of any deal, many Republicans also want to cap the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country, which has progressives worried.
When asked if Pelosi and Schumer should trust Trump in negotiations, many Democrats say they shouldn't.
"I wouldn't, no," Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tells Rolling Stone. "There's a historical context to Trump and immigration and immigrants that I think always has to be in the front of your mind."
Democratic angst with their party leaders pales in comparison with their mistrust of the president, which also puts the non-deal-deal struck Wednesday evening in jeopardy before it's even on paper.
"No, I don't think the president actually understands what he's saying half the time, so I'm afraid if he struck a deal with them that he'll go back on his word at any time," Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego told reporters. "I'm always skeptical when dealing with Donald Trump."