House Speaker Paul Ryan will get tons of grief today from conservatives over the dreadful explosion of federal spending in the budget agreement, and deservedly so. Ryan deserves credit for a gracious yet emphatic spiking of the football on the immigration debate, however. Earlier today, Ryan praised Nancy Pelosi’s stamina for her filibuster yesterday while politely explaining to the press just how little it accomplished.
Sure, Ryan said, he’ll commit to a vote on DACA … but on his terms, and Donald Trump’s:
“Guess what? In order to shift our focus and get onto the next big priority, which is a DACA solution, we’ve got to get this budget agreement done,” Ryan said. “And I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again, we will bring a DACA solution to the floor.” …
“I know that there is a real commitment to solving the DACA challenge in both political parties. That’s a commitment that I share. To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference in the Capitol.
“We will bring a solution to the floor — one that the president will sign.”
Anything else, Ryan argued, would simply be a waste of time. Granted, that may not be too much of a limitation, as Trump has signaled a significant amount of flexibility in the past. Remember when he agreed with Dianne Feinstein on the need for a “clean” DACA, as opposed to linking it to the border wall? He’s gotten a little more careful since then, but it’s clear that Trump wants a deal that will allow him to argue that he’s shown “great heart” towards DACA recipients.
In this case, the gatekeepers will be Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Anything on which they sign off will get Trump’s signature. Ryan made it clear that he takes gatekeeping seriously, shutting down another Pelosi demand for an open amendment process:
Another point of contention between Ryan and Pelosi is how exactly an immigration bill will come to the floor. Pelosi has asked Ryan for a more free-wheeling amendment process, where competing proposals come to the floor and the most popular bill advances. But Ryan has rejected that approach, saying he’ll only bring an immigration bill to the floor that he’s sure Trump will sign.
In practical terms, that won’t fly anyway. This deal will get negotiated between the principals, and both chambers will ratify or reject whatever configuration emerges from those talks. Even if both chambers took the free-for-all approach and actually passed something, there would have to be a conference committee to rewrite the whole thing anyway in a form that Trump would sign. Either way, the process will only close out with representative negotiations between Capitol Hill and the White House.
But if you don’t doubt Ryan’s commitment to a DACA vote, also be sure not to doubt the fact that Ryan holds all the cards — at least in the House. Democrats bargained away all of their trading power after learning a hard lesson on hostage-taking in budgets. Not only did they shrug off their FY2018 leverage, they shrugged off FY2019 too in this budget deal. If they want DACA now, they’ll have to offer some significant concessions on border security, and as Ryan says, on Trump’s terms.
And they’ll have to do it fast. The time limit is less than weeks off, and Trump has made it clear that he’ll find excuses not to extend the deadline even if he’s legally authorized to do so. If the clock runs out on DACA, it will be Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer who will pay the political price for delinking it from the budget, not Trump and the GOP. Expect to see significant movement to a fully funded “wall account” of $25 billion between now and March 5th, so that both sides can claim victory and depart this muddy field.