We know … because a bipartisan DACA deal has been within reach for months now. Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer have been dancing around it for months, with Trump hinting at significant concessions and Democrats backing down from budget standoffs. Now that Trump scored a big GOP win with the tax reform bill, he tells the New York Times that the moment has come for a big bipartisan push to resolve the so-called Dreamers issue, calling it a “practical” move. However, Trump still wants his wall:
TRUMP: But the Democrats should come to a bipartisan bill. And we can fix it. We can fix it. We can make a great health care plan. Not Obamacare, which was a bad plan. We can make a great health care plan through bipartisanship. We can do a great infrastructure plan through bipartisanship. And we can do on immigration, and DACA in particular, we can do something that’s terrific through bipartisanship.
SCHMIDT: It sounds like you’re tacking to the center in a way you didn’t before.
TRUMP: No, I’m not being centered. I’m just being practical. No, I don’t think I’m changing. Look, I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall.
SCHMIDT: So you’re not moving. You’re saying I’m more likely to do deals, but I’m not moving.
TRUMP: I’m always moving. I’m moving in both directions. We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. … [Talking with guests.] … The last guy that killed the eight people. … [Inaudible.] … So badly wounded people. … Twenty-two people came in through chain migration. Chain migration and the lottery system. They have a lottery in these countries.
They take the worst people in the country, they put ‘em into the lottery, then they have a handful of bad, worse ones, and they put them out. ‘Oh, these are the people the United States. …” … We’re gonna get rid of the lottery, and by the way, the Democrats agree with me on that. On chain migration, they pretty much agree with me.
Just in case Pelosi and Schumer didn’t get that message, Trump amplified it on his favorite medium:
The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017
Are Democrats listening? They’ll get a chance to negotiate directly on Wednesday, Politico reports. Pelosi’s spokesperson dismissed the attempt to shape the battlefield, so to speak:
“We’re not going to negotiate through the press and look forward to a serious negotiation at Wednesday’s meeting when we come back,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hamill.
Pelosi and Schumer will join Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the meeting with Kelly on Wednesday afternoon.
This time around, Pelosi and Schumer will be negotiating with John Kelly rather than Trump, in what appears to be a concession … to Republicans:
Kelly’s lead role in the negotiations is a significant break from similar meetings in recent months, when Democrats have walked away emboldened and claiming to have won concessions from Trump. After a September session at the White House, Trump joined Pelosi and Schumer to punt a series of fiscal negotiations until early December.
The question eventually will be whether Democrats want to go to the mattresses on budget negotiations over DACA to exclude any of Trump’s priorities. They have threatened a government shutdown over immigration policy before, and they’ll have an opportunity to make good on that threat by mid-January, but it’s dangerous in more than one way. The White House can shape battlefields even better on shutdowns by selectively choosing which shuttered functions to highlight, and how much to do so. Barack Obama turned out to play hardball pretty well when he had the opportunity, and Trump might be more inclined than most to squeeze Democrats.
It’s dangerous in another sense, too. While the progressive base wants Pelosi and Schumer to block Trump’s immigration policies at all costs, it became clear in the 2016 cycle that people outside the urban cores of Democratic support are a lot less sympathetic about illegal immigration. Those are the districts that Democrats need to win to take back control of the House, and giving Trump an opportunity to play hardball on immigration might push midterm voters back into Trump’s column. Democrats might be better off taking a win on DACA in exchange for reform on chain migration and ending the visa lottery system. Trump can claim some victories too in that exchange, but taking immigration reform off the table in the midterms helps Democrats more than Trump even with a win in January. By November, both that win and a Democratic concession will be mainly forgotten.
Kelly will keep all this in mind too, and will fight hard for some wall funding to make it as costly as possible for Pelosi and Schumer. But the die has largely been cast; Trump clearly wants to make a deal on DACA as well as on infrastructure, and Republicans will need to fight for as much as they can get.