ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Leaders in Congress and the White House met this afternoon to work on something they left unfinished before the holiday break. Just before Christmas, Congress passed a temporary spending bill to keep the government from shutting down. That's good through the 19th of this month, so the deadline to fund the government is coming up quickly. And a big part of those negotiations is figuring out some sort of agreement for what to do about the 700,000 immigrants protected by the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. NPR's Scott Detrow is on Capitol Hill and joins us now. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.
SHAPIRO: We know that Congress tends to leave things for the last minute, and DACA does not expire until March. So explain why lawmakers see this as something to be decided in January.
DETROW: A couple reasons here - one's Republican. One's Democratic. On the Republican side, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake you may recall was a key vote on the tax overhaul last month. And he said one reason he voted yes is that he was promised by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that a bipartisan DACA bill would be brought to the Senate floor in January. Now, we've been hearing that bipartisan talks have been making progress, though right now there's no clear deal in place. So that's one dynamic.
The second is all about Democratic leverage. This is of course a top Democratic priority. And that January 19 government funding deadline is one of those rare moments where Democrats can try to force the issue, say, you need our votes, so if you don't bring DACA up, we're not going to vote for this funding bill. Now, that's their leverage, but of course last month, Democrats decided not to use that leverage. And that really angered a lot of the activist groups working on a DACA fix.
SHAPIRO: If there is some kind of bipartisan deal, do you have any sense of what might be in it?
DETROW: Well, a lot of that depends on President Trump, who has frankly been all over the map on this. He's repeatedly said he wants to figure out a solution so that DACA protectees can stay. Those are people in the country illegally who were brought here as children. But sometimes he's demanded the bill would have to include funding for a border wall. Sometimes he's said that can wait until later.
He's also pushed lately for a much more drastic immigration change as part of a compromise, and that would include fundamental shifts in which immigrants are allowed in the country. And again, President Trump's views on this have changed on sometimes literally an hourly basis, so that's the big wildcard here.
SHAPIRO: Republicans are talking about ending something that they call chain migration allowing family members to come to the country. Where would Democrats be on that?
DETROW: So that is 1 of 2 areas where Democrats are saying that they just are not going to support it. The other is the idea of across-the-board border wall. Democrats have said we're willing to vote for enhanced border security but not your coast-to-coast wall. But on chain migration, President Trump does want to change the policies that initially prioritize family connections. This is an idea that that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton has pushed, too.
And we should say; we're talking about big changes to legal immigration here, not illegal immigration. But the White House has said that has to be part of a broader deal. But the Democratic argument is that that's really against the core principles that have defined the United States.
SHAPIRO: And since we are just over two weeks away from a possible government shutdown, what about the debate over government funding?
DETROW: Well, Republicans want to boost military spending. Democrats have said, if you want to do that, you need to raise domestic spending as well. That's really the big divide here. Republicans don't want to do both. And that's one reason why Congress has just lurched from short-term funding deal to short-term funding deal, passing weeks- or months-at-a-time bills.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Detrow joining us from Capitol Hill. Thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.