WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump[1] has spent recent weeks publicly hammering Congress to crack down on “legal loopholes” he says allow criminals to enter the country illegally. But behind the scenes, Trump[2] has shown little interest in jumping into an intensifying Capitol Hill debate over immigration legislation that many believe is unlikely to ever reach his desk.

Trump[3] is largely sitting out the biggest immigration showdown of his presidency to date as renegade House[4] Republicans - from both the right and the center - drive an effort to force votes on immigration proposals. That includes legislation that would provide young “Dreamer” immigrants a path to legal status and beef up border security, but may fall short of funding Trump[5]’s promised wall along the southern border.

The president isn’t calling House[6] members into the Oval Office for private chats. He’s not dialing them up to gauge their votes or lobby. His Twitter feed - the clearest window into his personal priorities - is nearly mum on the subject. Instead, he’s waiting for Republicans to try to hammer out a deal that both moderates and conservatives can support.

“There are bills going through, I’m watching one or two of them. We’ll see what happens,” Trump[7] told Fox News in an interview this week, underscoring his hands-off approach.

One senior White House official said the issue is seen inside the building as a House[8] affair, and Trump[9] would be happy to engage if asked to by House[10] leaders once a compromise is reached. The person said the White House intends to hammer immigration and border security issues as a key part of its midterm election strategy. Even if legislation fails to pass both houses, the White House believes Republicans will reap political gains, said the person - who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

But one senior GOP Capitol Hill aide familiar with the discussions said the White House has signaled to congressional leaders through quieter channels - including a meeting at the White House last week - that the president sees little benefit in expending too much political capital before the midterm elections on building support for legislation that is thought to have little chance of becoming law.

While White House aides are working with GOP leaders on an alternative bill that might win over enough Republicans to pass, the president has held back, letting House[11] leadership take the lead in developing a legislative strategy, according to White House and congressional aides.

Such restraint may seem unexpected for a president who has made immigration his signature issue. But his reluctance to engage highlights the clear limits of the election-year gambit. Without Trump[12], the effort is more likely...

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