We’re less than 30 hours away from Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, which will be the most elegant, best, yuuuuge SOTU in history, of course. After Trump’s big win on tax reform and the sudden sharing of wealth by major companies that have resulted from it, Trump wants to focus on more bipartisan initiatives such as infrastructure and trade, two of the major themes of his presidential campaign as well. However, Trump has DACA on his mind too, and he predicted that he would cut a deal with Democrats on immigration soon too.
Why? As Trump says, he doesn’t have much choice, and neither do they:
.@POTUS: We are going to get something done. We hope it is going to be bipartisan because the Republicans really don't have the votes to get it done in any other way…Hopefully the Democrats will join us so we can really do something great for DACA and for immigration generally. pic.twitter.com/eBgBKkhFqo
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 29, 2018
One piece of advice for Trump: Never underestimate the talent in both parties for killing deals from which both parties might benefit.
In this case, though, both parties might have too much on the line to let an opportunity pass. Democrats, especially in the Senate, raised the hopes of DACA recipients in shutting down the government, and have gotten blasted for taking the issue off the table in future budget talks. They need a win badly. Trump, meanwhile, needs to deliver on a border wall before he can offer any other concessions in order to keep his base in line, especially with tax reform the only big legislative win on the table for Trump so far this term. Both sides are playing hardball, looking to get as much as they can out of the other, but both sides need to be able to claim some wins, and soon.
Both parties might have to narrow their focus to the essential wins in order to cut a deal. Yesterday, legislators suggested a more direct swap — DACA for the wall, leaving legal immigration reforms for a larger effort down the road:
Lawmakers in both parties said Sunday that the immigration debate should focus narrowly on efforts to legalize young immigrants known as “dreamers” and beef up border security, suggesting that President Trump’s demands to slash legal immigration levels are likely to sink a deal. …
“It seems to me that the two important things to tackle right now . . . are to protect the dreamers and also to strengthen border security,” Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
She called Trump’s proposals to reform legal immigration “very important” but also “very complicated.”
Appearing after Collins on the same show, Reps. Will Hurd (R-Tx.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) — who have proposed a House bill to provide legal status to dreamers and bolster border security — agreed that addressing the legal immigration system in the negotiations over dreamers is implausible.
“I still believe that a narrow bill is most important; the thing that we can get through our Congress, both houses, in the House and in the Senate,” said Hurd, who represents a district with more than 800 miles of border with Mexico. “Because the more things you add, you start creating coalitions of opposition. And so let’s keep this narrow.”
Jazz mentioned this kind of deal over the weekend, with the Washington Post editorial board imagining a later deal on illegal immigration legalizing the other 11 million aliens in exchange for the ending of chain migration. The problem with punting that entirely out of the deal will be that the normalized DACA students would still be able to take advantage of family reunification policies currently in place. That, plus the length of time it will take to construct the border wall and secure the southern frontier, would allow for an escalation in illegal crossings, incentivized by both gaps.
That will be a non-starter among Republicans, especially in the House, who are getting suspicious of both their Senate counterparts and the White House. A DACA-for-the-wall deal would have to include bars on family reunification access to DACA recipients at the very least, which might provide a prelude to the larger bargain down the road. If Trump can get a border wall built quickly, splitting the rest of the legal immigration issues off of the deal might not sting as much, although hardliners will still scream about it.
For Trump, nothing else matters more than border security. For Democrats, nothing else matters more — especially now, after their ill-advised shutdown stunt — than protecting DACA recipients. A deal can easily be had under those circumstances … if a deal is truly desired.