The words “grand bargain” aren’t used here by Axios but that’s the upshot. Kushner’s thinking big — not “DREAM for wall” but bigger, trying to see if he can cobble something together that brings everyone aboard a la his success on criminal justice reform. He’s going to try to solve America’s longstanding immigration stalemate just like he’s trying to, er, solve the Middle East.
But what is there to talk about?
“They would like to try and replicate at some level a bipartisan coalition on immigration issues, something paired with border security as well,” said Koch Industries Senior Vice President Mark Holden, who attended the meeting…
Two senior White House officials told Axios they are stunned that Kushner thinks he could be the mediator who solves one of the most intractable problems in American politics for the past 20 years: immigration reform. One senior White House official told Axios that Kushner’s success in criminal justice reform has no bearing whatsoever on his ability to succeed on immigration.
“He convinced Democrats to support something they already agreed with,” the senior official told Axios.
Indeed. Getting Democrats to agree to criminal justice reform was a matter of getting them to agree to details. They agreed broadly in principle with the desired end; a successful compromise was a matter of hammering out specifics. If anything, it was Republicans who were the heavy lift, getting the law-and-order party to support some modest gestures of mercy towards convicts.
Corralling Republicans is comparatively easy for Jared, though. All he needs to do is convince Trump and a critical mass of GOPers in Congress will surely follow. They live in fear for their political lives from him. Once Trump gave them cover by supporting the reform package, Jared knew he had the leverage to make a deal happen.
It’s conceivable that he’d duplicate that feat on immigration reform with Republicans. Get Trump to support a grand bargain and enough Senate GOPers will follow his lead to make passage viable. His problem is Democrats. And not just Democrats but Democrats who recently fought a month-long high-stakes political battle with Trump — and won. They’re less inclined to give him money for the wall right now than they would have been before the shutdown began. If either side is going to need extra concessions to make a deal, it’s Pelosi’s party, not Trump’s.
In fact, the big fight over the wall has made that particular plank of immigration enforcement a fetish for both sides. After going to the mat on it, Trump simply can’t accept a deal that lacks wall funding now. It doesn’t matter what else is in there — comprehensive e-Verify, some new limits to legal immigration (which Democrats will never agree to), etc. If he doesn’t get the wall, he loses, period. I don’t think the wall’s power as a fetish is *quite* as strong for Democrats, but it’s plenty strong. There are, I think, concessions that Trump might make that they’d seriously consider, like a permanent DREAM amnesty that includes a path to citizenship. But as I say, their “ask” now will be steeper than it was six weeks ago. It will take a major concession to make this happen.
So tell me: Is there any major concession Trump might make that the populist right would tolerate in the name of securing wall funding?
I think there are some righties, even ones who support building the wall, who’d bite the bullet on amnesty for DREAMers as the price. (Relief for DREAMers always polls strongly across the population.) But not the Coulter faction. Not Lou Dobbs’s and Tucker Carlson’s viewers. The people whom Trump looks to as barometers of his immigration cred would have aneurysms. I’ll pose this as a question, just to make sure that I’m not guilty of misunderstanding the political lay of the land the way Jared is, but I think I know the answer: Wouldn’t populist activists rather not have the wall than have to provide full amnesty to DREAMers to get it?
If I’m right about that then Kushner’s quest for a deal is dead on arrival. He could try to go small, some sort of temporary relief for DACA recipients in exchange for generic border security funding, but Trumpers won’t like that. They want the wall and they certainly don’t want to do anything for DREAMers if they’re not getting it. Or Kushner could try to go big — full DREAM for the wall — and convince Trump to fully own it, and to keep on owning it even as the Coulterites begin declaring political war on him. That’s another problem with trying to broker a major compromise that involves Trump, though: He changes his mind. If he takes enough heat from “his people,” he’s apt to renege and start blaming his aides for leading him into a sucker’s bargain. Getting him to agree to a tough compromise is 10 percent of the difficulty here. Getting him to stick to it is 90.
And then comes the cherry on top. Trump has spent the past month assuring populists that if Democrats refuse to appropriate money for the wall, he can simply take it from the Pentagon by declaring a national emergency. This is his trump card, so to speak. He’s convinced MAGA Nation that when push comes to shove he doesn’t really need to negotiate with Democrats. He’ll deliver the wall one way or another. So try to imagine him and Kushner turning around three weeks from now and declaring that Democrats have agreed to fund the wall … in return for a path to citizenship for several million DREAMers.
He could have built the wall without giving up anything, via an emergency decree, and instead he chose to sign the biggest amnesty in decades?
It’s unfathomable. The idea of an emergency declaration is another case of bad strategy by Trump, not because it irritated Democrats and made them less likely to make concessions (although it did that too) but because it created a certain expectation among his own supporters. If he really does want to get the wall funded through negotiations with Congress, he never should have offered his fans an alternate route. Now he’s stuck with it.
To sum up the state of play, then: Any deal at this point absolutely must involve wall money, and the only way Democrats will even consider that is if it also involves concessions which Trump’s base will never support. Good luck, Jared.