By Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON, Dec 29 (Reuters) - The White House said on Friday it was set to kick off talks next week with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on immigration policy, government spending and other issues that need to be wrapped up early in the new year.
The expected flurry of legislative activity comes as Republicans and Democrats begin to set the stage for midterm congressional elections in November. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is eager to maintain control of Congress while Democrats look for openings to wrest seats away in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney and legislative affairs director Marc Short will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan - both Republicans - and their Democratic counterparts, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the White House said.
That will be followed up with a weekend of strategy sessions for Trump, McConnell and Ryan on Jan. 6 and 7 at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, according to the White House.
The Senate returns to work on Jan. 3 and the House on Jan. 8. Congress passed a short-term government funding bill last week before taking its Christmas break, but needs to come to an agreement on defense spending and various domestic programs by Jan. 19, or the government will shut down.
Also on the agenda for lawmakers is disaster aid for people hit by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, and by wildfires in California. The House passed an $81 billion package in December, which the Senate did not take up. The White House has asked for a smaller figure, $44 billion.
Deadlines also loom for soon-to-expire protections for young adult immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, known as “Dreamers.”
In September, Trump ended Democratic former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected Dreamers from deportation and provided work permits, effective in March, giving Congress until then to devise a long-term solution.
Democrats, some Republicans and a number of large companies have pushed for DACA protections to continue. Trump and other Republicans have said that will not happen without Congress approving broader immigration policy changes and tougher border security. Democrats oppose funding for a wall promised by Trump along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc,” Trump said in a Twitter post on Friday.
Trump wants to overhaul immigration rules for extended families and others seeking to live in the United States.
Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent critic of the president, said he would work with Trump to protect Dreamers.
“We can fix DACA in a way that beefs up border security, stops chain migration for the DREAMers, and addresses the unfairness of the diversity lottery. If POTUS (Trump) wants to protect these kids, we want to help him keep that promise,” Flake wrote on Twitter.
Congress in early 2018 also must raise the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid a government default. The U.S. Treasury would exhaust all of its borrowing options and run dry of cash to pay its bills by late March or early April if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling before then, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Trump, who won his first major legislative victory with the passage of a major tax overhaul this month, has also promised a major infrastructure plan.
Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson and Makini Brice; Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham