Top House Republicans downplayed expectations for President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration plans, saying his call for a “deportation force” to deal with undocumented immigrants isn’t a priority and that drones could patrol parts of the Mexican border instead of building Trump’s proposed wall.
Speaker Paul Ryan said on CNN that “securing the border’s our top priority,” while the force, which Trump called for in November 2015 to send as many as 12 million people back to their countries of origin, wasn’t a “focus” of policymaking for Republicans and the White House.
In the year since his original comment, Trump has alternately softened and reaffirmed the statement. Many of his rallies were punctuated by his supporters’ chant to “build that wall.”
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, Trump said two million to three million undocumented immigrants –– criminals, gang members and drug dealers among them –– could be removed from the U.S. or imprisoned, according to a partial transcript provided by the network. He also said that he would settle for a fence on part of the border.
The No. 2 Republican in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said on Fox News that a wall on the border must be built but that “it could be all-virtual with the UAV airplanes as well,” using an abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
“That is very doable and one of the first things that needs to be done,” McCarthy said, adding that the terrain on the border would in some places make building a wall impossible.
Beyond immigration, the main priorities for the Republican agenda in the upcoming Congress include health care, job growth, tax reform and rolling back regulations, McCarthy said.
McCarthy and Ryan both said that a planned Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act would preserve the law’s mandate that insurers can’t deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and that children can stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. That’s in line with Trump’s comments Friday that he wanted to keep those popular provisions, despite having promised to repeal the law.