WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump escalated his rhetoric on immigration in Twitter messages Sunday that appeared to move him far from what days ago seemed to be a potential deal with Democrats and moderate Republicans.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military,” Trump said, referring to legislation to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries!” Trump said.

Trump was soon contradicted by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said on “Fox News Sunday” there’s still hope for a solution if Democrats would agree to close immigration loopholes.

“I do not believe DACA is dead,” Nielsen said. She said the Trump administration and congressional Republicans want “a security-immigration deal.” She also said it would be “completely irresponsible” for Democrats to demand that a deal be tied to keeping the government funded.

The immigration debate is taking place against a backdrop of controversy after Trump reportedly called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries” during an Oval Office meeting with senators. Trump denied making the comment in a Twitter post Friday, although the White House didn’t dispute the quotations after they were widely reported Thursday, and Sen Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said the denial is “not true.”

Nielsen was at the Oval Office meeting but said she didn’t recall that specific phrase being used.

Less than a week ago Trump said at a televised, bipartisan meeting with lawmakers that he wanted a “bill of love” on immigration. He appeared to endorse a “clean DACA” bill sought by Democrats.

Since then, a hard-right flank of the Republican Party, led by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., pulled the president back from the center.

The immigration debate is playing out days before a potential government shutdown as soon as the end of this week.

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