Republicans grumble: Stephen Miller's trying to blow up the DREAM amnesty deal with Democrats

My goodness. CNN, McClatchy, HuffPost, Politico — there sure are a lot of media outlets fielding calls from unhappy Hill staffers about Stephen Miller and the DREAM deal over the last few days.

To congressional Republicans, what Miller’s trying to do is sabotage a deal by stuffing it so full of politically toxic poison pills that Democrats will choke and half the GOP caucus will walk away. To you and I, what Miller’s trying to do is extract truly meaningful enforcement measures as the price of amnestying DREAMers. Right now the GOP’s ask is “border security,” which deals with one limited facet of illegal immigration and can be undone later to some extent by a Democratic White House. Miller’s thinking bigger picture, knowing that this may be the last shot at any sort of immigration deal for years.

But is it true that his demands would kill a deal if Trump backs him up? Sure. No way will Democrats consider them unless amnesty for *all* illegals inside the U.S. is on the table, which would make this the mother of all comprehensive reform deals. Here’s Miller’s wish list, via CNN:

Among the White House “principles” in exchange for a DACA fix that Miller and the White House are asking for include making it more difficult for legal residents of the US to bring in family members from their counties of origin. This measure is opposed by Democrats and divide even Republicans.

There are also principles outlined in a rebranded version of the proposed SAFE Act, a highly controversial bill from 2013-2014. These measures would give state and local law enforcement boards authority to enforce immigration laws, allowing states to craft their own immigration rules and potentially criminalizing anyone who is here without legal status…

The White House has also discussed requiring Congress, not the Department of Homeland Security, to handle designating Temporary Protected Status for immigrants. TPS is a a provision of immigration law that allows the government to grant temporary work authorizations and protection from deportation to immigrants, including otherwise undocumented ones, from certain countries where life remains dangerous. Conditions that could merit the status include armed conflict and civil war, natural disasters, epidemics and “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”

Miller also wants Democrats to agree on caps to annual legal immigration, per Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act, as well as to put up the border security money the GOP is already asking for. There’s no chance Schumer and Pelosi will sign on to all that; even a demand that DREAMers’ parents be barred from applying for residence under chain-migration rules once their children are naturalized will be toxic to the Democratic base. How does this sausage get made if all of Miller’s ingredients are part of the recipe? It doesn’t, as John Cornyn told HuffPost:

“Once we start getting into the legal immigration debate and what the appropriate fixes are there, we’re in danger of getting into the comprehensive immigration reform debate, which leaves us basically empty-handed,” Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told HuffPost on Thursday.

“We ought to be narrowly focused on the DACA fix that the president’s asked us to consider,” Cornyn said. He added that once Congress had taken care of DACA and border security, then lawmakers could turn to “these other issues in the next legislation.”

“Next legislation”? Who does he think he’s kidding? A DREAM-for-border-security deal will be sufficiently nauseating to both sides’ bases that the two parties’ leadership won’t have the appetite to revisit the subject for years. Said GOP Sen. James Lankford to HuffPost, “As many things that need to be addressed, should be addressed, because we won’t do it again for three decades probably.” If he’s serious about that, he’d better start thinking of an amnesty much bigger than the DACA kids.

What about Trump, though? You get the sense reading the stories about Miller over the past few days that Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are trying to signal to POTUS through the media, probably assuming that (a) he has no idea what Miller’s up to because he’s disengaged from the negotiations and (b) his policy grasp of immigration and the treacherous politics surrounding it in Congress is so weak that he might not realize Miller’s demands would kill the deal he’s hoping to strike. “We use to joke about President Bannon,” said one senior lawmaker to McClatchy. “Now it’s President Miller.” That’s as heavy-handed an attempt to turn Trump against one of his own aides by playing on his mammoth ego as you’ll ever see.

*If* Miller’s demands reflect Trump’s own thinking rather than an attempt to “hijack” the negotiations, it’s hard to explain why Trump was on the phone with Schumer last night trying to make a deal on — gulp — health care. Schumer would have no reason to chat with him if Trump was already trying to blow up the immigration deal they made. It also makes no sense that Trump would set a six-month deadline for Congress to act on legalizing DACA kids and then make demands that he knows, or should know, are bound to wreck a deal on the Hill. The point of the deadline was to force Congress to solve this problem for him. Setting terms that make a deal impossible will only end up putting the ball back in his court on DACA. Maybe Miller really has gone rogue.

One irony of pitting Trump against Miller on immigration, though, is that it might please both sides of the Republican intraparty divide. For establishmentarians, having Trump knock Miller back and abandon his demands on enforcement might take some steam out of the populist engine. Many Republican voters are loyal to Trump above party or principle and plenty of GOPers support a DREAM deal in the abstract. Trump might peel away some populists from the party’s Bannon wing by making this deal. (The broader population likes it too, which may improve Trump’s polling and help the GOP in the midterms.) On the other hand, the ones he fails to peel away are apt to see him as a sellout to populism and to side with Bannon and Miller as true warriors for the nationalist cause against the pretender Trump. That may intensify support for challengers to GOP incumbents in next year’s primaries, where a smallish but highly motivated contingent can sometimes defeat a larger but more tepid one. For their own reasons, both Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon might pop the champagne if Trump drops Miller’s terms and agrees to a straightforward DREAM-for-border-security deal.