WASHINGTON — President Trump escalated tensions with Democratic leaders on Tuesday over the fate of young undocumented immigrants known as dreamers, claiming they are “doing nothing” to protect them from deportation as a key deadline nears, even though last year he ended the Obama-era program that allowed these immigrants to stay in the country.

But the Twitter salvo masked a murkier reality as lawmakers returned to Washington: Trump remains open to negotiations on a charged issue that has vexed him since his presidential campaign – and his brash partisanship was widely seen as a nod to his base rather than a sudden turn in the talks.

Inside the White House and the Republican Party, Trump is caught in a thicket of political pressures as he maps out possible requisites for a deal. Many of his supporters are clamoring for a standoff over funding for his promised, massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, while some aides and Republican officials are reminding him of his pledge last year to “show great heart” toward dreamers – immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.”He’s got a very simple core problem. His base regards DACA,” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, “as a sellout,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally. “He personally gets it and he personally wants to solve it, but he’s got to get something for doing it.”

During his recent visit to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump spoke at length with members of his inner circle about these concerns, according to three people familiar with the conversations. Trump groused that since Democrats, in his view, were unwilling to work with him on the Republican tax bill that passed last month, he could not expect them to work with him on the dreamers issue, either, and he warned he would be quick to blame them if discussions fell apart, the people said.

But Trump also expressed hope that he could eventually find a way to convince some red-state Democrats to support funding for a wall and would keep prodding them throughout January, the people added.

Even if Trump bends some Democrats to his will, many moderate Republicans are wary of the wall proposal and its implications in their own races, and have asked congressional Republican leaders to act swiftly to address dreamers regardless of whether Democrats agree to Trump’s demands.

“The president is boxed in a corner,” former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg said. “He knows the base sees the wall a threshold issue and they’re worried that establishment Republicans and Democrats want a straight deal, without funding for the wall. But with some Republicans in Congress looking to possibly tie the issue to the budget fight, getting what he wants will be difficult.”

Senior aides to Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they are not taking Trump’s tweets literally given his shifting stances on immigration matters. More important, they said, is what is said inside the private meetings – and who attends.

Democratic aides said they took notice when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – and not senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a border hawk – showed up at a December meeting with leading senators.

At times, “it’s unclear who we’re even negotiating with in the White House,” one House Democratic aide said.

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