My hunch on Saturday, shortly before POTUS went on TV to float his new “BRIDGE Act for the wall” proposal, was that the final vote count in the Senate was likely to be closer to 50 than the 60 McConnell would need to pass it. Looks like that hunch was correct.
In the 24 hours since Trump offered his immigration proposal, not a single Democrat has publicly expressed openness to it…
White House officials and Republicans close to leadership have privately admitted to Axios, since Trump’s Saturday announcement, that they don’t see how they win over the seven Senate Democrats they need to support this bill.
Democrats are blunt. Steve Elmendorf, one of the top Democratic lobbyists in Washington D.C., told Axios, “Why would any Senate Democrat vote for a bill that was not negotiated with any Senate Democrat?” (Kushner and Pence consulted Democrats, but they weren’t at the negotiating table; this is a Trump offer.)
A public offer by the president to recalcitrant Democrats was good theater. Want to convince the public that Pelosi is the obstructionist here, not Trump himself? Then have him dangle something in front of voters that would benefit DACA recipients and invite a counteroffer. When Pelosi inevitably says that her counteroffer is nothing, hope that Americans react by turning on her. Not a bad PR play. And maybe not a bad policy play insofar as it might get some moderate Dems in the Senate thinking about a proposal of their own, possibly as part of a “gang” with centrist Republicans, to which Trump might be amenable.
But as a serious offer that might draw seven Democratic votes? Nah. For Senate Dems to pass Trump’s plan over Pelosi’s (and Schumer’s) objection would have been treason to a united left. The only acceptable outcome to liberal American is to deny Trump his wall. Doesn’t matter what’s on the table in exchange. Plus, as this drags on and the country sees how deeply Trump is willing to dig in to achieve a key goal, the lesson may be growing clearer for Dems that to cave to him in this case would assuredly invite another, maybe even longer shutdown later. “If he opens up the government, we’ll discuss whatever he offers, but hostage taking should not work,” said Schumer to the media yesterday. Expect to hear that more often from Dems as the standoff bogs down further: At this point, resistance is a pure matter of deterring future brinksmanship, not the merits of “BRIDGE for wall” or any other proposed swap.
One quibble with the Axios report excerpted above, though. I’m not sure I’d say that no Senate Dem has “expressed openness” to Trump’s offer. Centrist red-state Dems like Joe Manchin and Doug Jones have strained to signal “openness” to some sort of deal to their mostly Republican constituents back home while also being careful not to say that they’d accept the particular offer Trump has made. Here’s Manchin trying to walk that line:
I'm hopeful the President's statement tonight will allow us to immediately reopen gov, put WVians back to work & start negotiating long-term immigration reform. I look forward to working w/my GOP & Dem colleagues to make this happen so that we can end this shameful shutdown.
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) January 20, 2019
Re-opening government immediately and then negotiating on immigration is a non-starter for Trump since, of course, it would destroy any leverage he has to get Dems to agree to the wall. It makes no substantive sense for Manchin to link his plea to Trump’s Saturday statement. But it makes political sense: He’s treating Trump’s offer as a good first step or whatever, pandering to West Virginia’s Trump voters. Same with Jones, who called Trump’s offer a “hopeful sign” and a “crack of optimism” at a townhall in Alabama — while adding that “the issue for border security is not a wall” and proposing some new surveillance technology at the border instead. Neither he nor Manchin sound like a yes on the coming gut-check vote in the Senate. In fact, Manchin’s so exasperated that he’s done with trying to resolve this in Congress at all:
“Well, if that’s the case then I’m begging the president—please declare a national emergency,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told The Daily Beast. “Please do it Mr. President, because we are in a political meltdown.”
Jones said at the town hall that he opposes declaring a national emergency, but check back in a few days. Let’s see how many Senate moderates are suddenly okay with ending the shutdown by any means necessary as another missed payday for federal workers four days from now approaches.
The bottom line is that we’re looking at all 47 Senate Democrats voting no when McConnell puts Trump’s bill on the floor. The real suspense is whether we’re also looking at all 53 Republicans voting yes in solidarity with POTUS or if some of the chamber’s (few) immigration hardliners will go their own way. Ann Coulter’s predictable reaction to Trump’s offer got some media attention on Saturday:
Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 19, 2019
I went looking for reaction by Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz to Trump’s “temporary amnesty for wall” offer and found nothing so far, despite the fact that it’s been nearly 48 hours. I assume both will punt when asked today by insisting that they need to read the bill before deciding. The calculus for them in this case is difficult. They don’t want to break with Trump and hand Democrats a talking point that opposition in the Senate to the president’s offer is bipartisan but there’s also no strong reason for them to vote for a bill that’s doomed and that’ll only piss off restrictionists like Coulter who view it as some sort of sellout. Both men are eyeing the 2024 primaries; being able to say that you’re to Trump’s right on amnesty because you rejected the bargain he offered during the 2019 shutdown is an attractive talking point. I think Cruz will fall in line and vote yes, but Cotton seems keen on winning border-hawk vote when he runs for president and will probably cross the aisle. Which, again, would mean we end up with a tally closer to 50 than to 60 for Trump’s proposal. Then what?
Exit quotation via WaPo: “White House officials and GOP leaders would accept virtually any offer from Democrats to end the impasse, hoping they sell it to Trump as a ‘victory’ and move forward, said one Republican with close ties to both the administration and congressional leaders. This person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said there is extreme consternation about how poorly the shutdown was playing out and how polling shows many Americans heaping blame on Trump.”