"I always get a kick out of people that go down and spend a few hours [at the border] and think they know the border better than some of us there", Cuellar told Trump at a White House meeting of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
It was an freakish scene: For around an hour, cameras rolled as Trump moderated a conversation between Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of Congress on DACA - Trump's repeal of which has left almost 800,000 young people at risk of deportation - border security and so-called "chain migration" (this administration's term for existing family-based advantages for prospective immigrants).
The talks come amid growing pressure to enact a legislative solution for the so-called Dreamers - young immigrants who have lived in the USA illegally since they were children. "If they come to me with things that I'm not in love with, I'm going to do it", Trump asserted. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the attendees. "I am very much reliant on the people in this room".
The White House declared the meeting a success in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
The president also addressed the issue of a border wall with Mexico, saying the USA needs one "in certain areas obviously that aren't protected by nature" and where existing fences are in bad shape and need to be fixed or rebuilt. "During the closed-door portion of the meeting, they reached an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy".
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also was at the meeting, said negotiators in Congress still faced difficulties but it was important that Trump had shown he had "no animosity toward the Dream Act kids" and the "wall is not going to be 2,220 miles wide". That's an argument GOP lawmakers who want a deal are making to Trump to convince him he has maximum leverage now that will wane.
Democrats and Republicans are set to resume negotiations on Wednesday.
Asked if Tuesday provided the clarity that lawmakers have been asking for, Lankford said there was still more to be done. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana, as well as Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who frequently votes with Republicans on immigration and border issues - a sign that the White House is looking to pick off as many Democrats as it can even if it can't work with the party's key negotiators. Instead, the guest list is set to include lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Senator Dick Durbin of IL, a Democrat.
But details in the meeting were still hard to come by. Lindsey Graham of SC at one point.
"If we do this properly - DACA - we're not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform", the President said at one point.
House Republicans said they planned to soon introduce legislation to address border security and the young immigrants.
"We need a wall", Trump said, during the long exchange with lawmakers. But those issues are commonly thought to only be achievable in a comprehensive immigration deal.
Lawmakers working on a DACA deal have long fought to keep the bill narrow, saying adding more into it would only make it collapse under its own wait.
"If you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat, I don't care", Trump told lawmakers of a broad immigration bill.
In the highly unusual, 45-plus-minute negotiations that aired on news networks afterward, a bipartisan group of lawmakers debated whether to enact a two-phased approach to immigration reform, in which the first component resolved the soon-to-be terminated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the second tackles broader reforms to the United States immigration system.
"Maybe we can do something", Trump said. I do believe that.