By James Oliphant and Amanda Becker
STERLING, Va./ WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress made no notable progress this week toward a deal on the status of 700,000 “Dreamer” immigrants, with President Donald Trump saying on Friday that one “could very well not happen” by a deadline next month.
Whether the lack of progress signaled the possibility of another federal government shutdown next week was unclear, but it worried the Dreamers, young people who were brought illegally into the United States as children.
Trump said last year that he would end by March 5 a program that was set up by former President Barack Obama to protect the Dreamers from deportation, and he urged Congress to act before that date. No action has resulted.
“We want to make a deal,” Trump said at an event in Virginia with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. And he blamed Democratic lawmakers for the impasse.
“I think they want to use it for political purposes for elections. I really am not happy with the way it’s going from the standpoint of the Democrats,” he said.
Democrats have said repeatedly that they want protections written into law for the Dreamers, who were given temporary legal status by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which lets them study and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
Republicans, who control Congress, are undecided on what to do about DACA and the Dreamers. They ended a three-day retreat at a mountain resort in West Virginia on Friday not much nearer to consensus than they were a week ago.
The partisan standoff caused a partial shutdown of the federal government for three days last month after Congress failed to pass a stopgap spending measure needed to keep the lights on at federal facilities across the country.
The House of Representatives plans to vote on Tuesday on legislation to keep federal agencies operating beyond Feb. 8, when existing funds expire, a senior House Republican aide said.
The aide did not provide details, however, on the duration of this latest-in-a-series of temporary funding measures.
Democrats have leverage on the immigration issue because their votes are needed to pass spending measures in the Senate.
The next spending deadline looms on Thursday, with Democrats defiant in their demands and Republicans remaining divided.
Trump has offered the Dreamers a path to citizenship, but only on the condition he also gets funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as other immigration-related measures that Democrats oppose.
Last month, he proposed letting 1.8 million Dreamers stay in the country and become citizens in exchange for $25 billion for the wall, curbs on family-sponsored immigration, and an end to a visa lottery program.
Some lawmakers want Trump’s four-part immigration framework pared back, while others want it approved or made even more strict on future immigration.
“If we can solve DACA and border security that may be the best I can hope for,” Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, told reporters at the retreat.
Senator James Lankford was among Republicans who said this week that Trump could give Congress more time to reach a deal by extending the Dreamers’ deadline beyond March 5.
Trump reiterated on Thursday at the retreat that all four components of his framework must be included in a deal, a stance viewed as unworkable by many lawmakers in both parties.
Some Republicans say the March 5 deadline lost its power last month when a federal court blocked the rescinding of DACA. That meant the law would remain in effect until the Supreme Court resolves the case, which is unlikely by March 5.
In a research note, financial firm Height Analytics set the odds of another shutdown next week at 65 percent.
Republicans are trying to call Democrats’ bluff on DACA, but the Democrats look even more willing to allow a shutdown than they were last month, the analysts said. “What this has become is a very absurd game of chicken,” they said in the note.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)