Senior WH aide to Politico: Trump is bluffing on canceling DACA after six months

Heh. Well, look at it this way: Schumer was never going to compromise on this anyway, even without knowing from the president’s own team that he’s bluffing. He holds too many political cards: National polling supports DREAM legalization, the media will be even deeper in the tank on this issue than they are for most Democratic priorities, and there’s a brutal GOP intraparty battle royal brewing if Dems push hard here. Schumer agreeing to fund the wall in return for a DREAM Act would mean letting Trump out of a very tight spot politically, as the wall money might appease right-wing populists who otherwise dislike the idea of any form of amnesty. Insisting that only a “clean” DREAM Act bill will pass with Democratic votes would be Schumer playing hardball. Then Trump would be forced to decide: Does he surrender and sign a standalone DREAM bill, infuriating his base, or does he veto it, which would mean taking full political ownership of the fallout?

Anyway. At least one “senior” member of his own White House staff predicts he’ll choke:

The president is buying himself time on a difficult matter and has complained privately to friends and associates that he has few good options. He doesn’t like ending the program for the “kids,” but also chafes at hearing that “New York Democrats” are powering his administration, according to several people who have spoken to the president in recent days…

[A] senior White House aide said that if Republican lawmakers fail to agree on a plan, he didn’t expect Trump to follow through on terminating DACA — a prospect that would test Bannon’s commitment to support his former boss from the outside.

There’s a double-barreled irony to this political trap. One: For all the hand-wringing about Trump violating constitutional norms, this is a flashy example of POTUS following a constitutional norm that had been violated by Obama. Says Rich Lowry, “You can reasonably argue that he’s exercised his powers foolishly at times, and perhaps Robert Mueller will end up contending that he has even exercised them corruptly. But he’s done nothing remotely on the order of the brazen lawlessness of President Obama’s two unilateral amnesties. Which makes it all the more instructive that the same Left complaining about Trump trampling our system is shocked and outraged that he would turn to the nation’s law-making body to make law on the matter of DACA.” The media freakout of the past 24 hours is being driven by the horrifying idea that the president is asking the legislature to deal with an Article I issue of national import. And it’s not even an issue on which congressional Republicans and Democrats are implacably opposed. This is the easiest compromise they’ll ever be asked to make. All Pelosi and Schumer need to do to get it done is give Ryan and McConnell some sort of fig leaf on security measures, ideally funding for the border wall. Virtually anything except a “clean” DREAM bill will make it happen.

Two: For all the abuse he’s about to take from the left, Trump very clearly doesn’t want to end DACA. He’s resisted the grumbling from border hawks for seven months about continuing the program and would probably go on resisting if not for the lawsuit threat from Republican state attorneys general. Key members of his own base, like the evangelical leaders who stood by him after his Charlottesville comments, are urging him not to pull the plug. Trump himself has spoken famously and repeatedly of showing “heart” towards DREAMers. Today the Times claims that he’s been agonizing for months over a “way out” of ending the program without angering the right wing too much. In fact, if you believe ABC, the plan that Jeff Sessions will announce this morning not only will keep DACA going for another six months, it’ll allow DACA enrollees to renew their status if they fall under a certain timetable:

The administration won’t consider new applications for legal status dated after Sept. 5.

If you are not already protected by the program, you are out of luck, although applications filed before Tuesday that are pending will continue to be processed.

Anyone who has a DACA permit expiring between now and March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal. That application must be submitted by Oct. 5.

Some Dreamers, those with permits that expire between now and March 5, will be eligible for legal status for another two-plus years. For others, legal status ends as early as March 6.

He’s not “shutting down” DACA, he’s phasing it out. Some enrollees will end up being protected all the way to March 2020. Many more will be protected beyond the March 2018 deadline, with their enrollment lapsing sometime between then and March 2020. Next March is a drop-dead expiration date on legal status only for a relatively small number of DACA registrants. And even for those people, per ABC, “Officials say the priority for deportation will continue to be undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.” DREAMers might begin to lose their legal right to remain in the U.S. next spring but Trump could issue an executive order emphasizing that they’re the absolute lowest priority for deportation. Maybe that’s what the mysterious senior official quoted by Politico meant. It’s hard to imagine President Alpha Male cravenly caving if Schumer called his bluff by backing off his threat to end the program, but there are various ways to “end it” that don’t really require ending it. Another possibility: So long as there’s some sort of activity in Congress regarding a DREAM bill, even rudimentary stuff like informal discussions between Dems and GOPers, Trump could point to that as progress worthy of suspending his termination of the program while “negotiations” play out. And if “negotiations” just so happen to continue through the rest of 2018, hey.

Besides, if he whiffs on ending the program on schedule in March, congressional Republicans will bring intense pressure on him afterwards to delay cancellation past the midterms. The longer he waits to pull the plug, the closer Election Day will be. It’s one thing to do it in March, when voters will have eight months to process (and maybe forget about) the end of DACA, it’s another to do it in, say, September, when it would land like a mortar in the GOP ranks. Either he does it next spring when he’s claiming he’ll do it or he chokes and doesn’t do it at all.